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16~473T3-2 opo 

New York University Series 


Graduate School Studies 




New York University 

New York, N. Y. 


Claims as a Cause of 
The Mexican War 











JAN 25 /gJ5; 




Origin of the claims vii 

Relation to the Texas and slavery questions vii 

Opposing views of the claims controversy viii 

Aim of the thesis viii 

Chapter I — The Policies of Jackson and Van Buren with 
Reference to the Claims — 1829-1838 

Relations between United States and Mexico in 1829 1 

Butler's mission to Mexico 2 

Character of the man 2 

His instructions of October 16, 1829 2 

His attempts to adjust the claims 2 

First report to Congress on claims, January 6, 1835 4 

Treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, April 5, 1832 4 

Butler's schemes to purchase Texas 4 

His personal troubles in Mexico and recall 5 

Ellis's mission to Mexico in 1836 5 

The situation at the close of the year 1835 5 

Ellis's instructions to press the claims, January 29, 1836 .... 5 

Ellis recommends a more aggressive policy, May 28, 1836 ... 6 

His new instructions of July 20, 1836 6 

Fifteen claims presented to Mexico, September 26, 1836 . . 7 

Mexico's reply . 8 

Ellis's demand for his passports 9 

Influence of the Texas question 10 

Withdrawal of Mexican Minister from United States 11 

Withdrawal of Ellis from Mexico 12 

Jackson's war-like message to Congress, February 6, 1837 . . 12 

Forty-six claims against Mexico cited 13 

Report of Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Febru- 
ary 18, 1837 13 

Van Buren and Forsyth consulted by Committee 14 

Report of House Committee on Foreign Relations, Feb- 
ruary 24, 1837 16 

Greenhow's mission to Mexico in summer of 1837 17 

Fifty-seven claims presented to Mexico 17 

Mexico's action regarding them 17 

Forsyth's report of December 2, 1837 18 

Van Buren places the question before Congress, December 

5, 1837 19 

Debate in Congress 20 

House struggle over the right of petition 21 


iv Contents. 

John Quincy Adams's speech 21 

Critical study of the charges he made 22 

Jackson's supposed connivance at Texas revolution 23 

Jackson's relation to Butler 23 

Gaines's entrance into Texas 24 

Ellis's mission and the Texas question 25 

Jackson's war-like message of February 6, 1837, not in- 
fluenced by Texas question 26 

Van Buren's pohcy not influenced by it 27 

Conclusion: Jackson and Van Buren's policies just 28 

Chapter II — The Claims Referred to Arbitration — 1838- 

Mexican decree offering to arbitrate the claims, May, 1837 30 

Delay in its presentation to the United States 30 

Convention of September 10, 1838 31 

Ellis sent as minister to Mexico, February, 1839 32 

Mexico's failure to ratify the convention 32 

Report of House Committee on Foreign Relations, March 

2, 1839 32 

Van Buren's willingness to conclude new convention 32 

Convention of April 11, 1839 32 

Act of Congress carrying it into effect, June 12, 1840 33 

Meeting of Arbitration Commission 33 

Commission discusses question of oaths 33 

Commission discusses question of rules of procedure 34 

Nature of and access to the board receive great attention ... 34 

Progress of the board in its work 37 

Summary of the board's findings 38 

Mexican commissioners account for failures of board 39 

American commissioners reply 39 

Disposition of documents 40 

Report of the American commissioners 40 

Criticism of the Commission 41 

Views of Adams, Jay, and Linn 43 

Chapter III — Tyler and the Claims — 1842-1845 

Expansion the keynote of Tyler's administration 45 

Henry A. Wise divulges the policies of Tyler 46 

Anti-slavery men aroused 46 

Tyler's plan to trade the claims for territory 47 

Thompson's letter to Webster, April 29, 1842 47 

Thompson's letter to Tyler, May 9, 1842 47 

Webster's letter to Thompson, June 27, 1842 48 

Neutrality correspondences injures Tyler's plan 49 

Jones episode makes plan hopeless 49 

United States again urges claims against Mexico 50 

Convention of January 30, 1843 50 

Contents. v 

Thompson's criticism of the claims 51 

Thompson not a tool of the slavery interests 51 

Upshur's instructions to Thompson regarding a new conven- 
tion 52 

Convention of November 20, 1843 53 

Senate's ratification with important changes 54 

Upshur's explanation of these changes 54 

Senate changes criticised 55 

Mexico ceases to pay awards, early in 1844 55 

United States remonstrates, but without avail 55 

Tyler ignores claims and urges annexation 56 

Relation of slavery to the Texas question 56 

Claims an insignificant matter with Tyler ' 57 

Chapter IV — Claims and the Mexican War — 1845-1848 

Expansion one of Polk's great aims 58 

Mexican situation when he became president 58 

Polk plans to send a minister to Mexico 59 

One object of the mission the acquisition of territory 59 

Mexico asked if she will receive an envoy 59 

Mexico agrees to receive a commissioner 60 

California policy pressed 60 

Bancroft's letter to Sloat, June 24, 1845 60 

Larkin made a secret agent to California 60 

Slidell's instructions as minister to Mexico 61 

Slidell's stay in Mexico 63 

Denied recognition 63 

Taylor sent to the Rio Grande, January 13, 1846 63 

New instructions to Slidell, January 20, 1846 63 

Polk's schemes to get Santa Anna back to Mexico 64 

Polk suggests bribing Mexico into giving up California ... 65 

Slidell denied recognition a second time 66 

Detachment of Taylor's forces attacked 67 

The war message 67 

Object of the war — expansion, as shown in Polk's Diary .... 68 
Report on causes of the war by House Committee on For- 
eign Relations, June 24, 1846 70 

Polk's defense of the war in annual message of December, 

1846 70 

This message attacked in Congress 70 

In his third annual message, Polk rests the justice of the 

war on the claims 72 

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo — light it throws on the part 

the claims played 73 

Expansion the real cause of the war 73 

Many men wanted all of Mexico 74 

Slavery a hindrance, not a help to the movement 77 

vi Contents. 


Causes of war grouped about two subjects: territory and 

claims 78 

Conduct of United States with refreence to the claims 

legitimate 78 

Slavery struggle complicated the question, but the real 

cause for the war was expansion 79 

Appendix I 

A brief statement of the claims taken from Ellis's instruc- 
tions of July 20, 1836 80 

Appendix II 

Brief statement of the claims as presented to Mexico by 

the United States in July, 1837 83 

Bibliography 91 



After Mexico won her independence from Spain in 1821, there 
followed a period of thirty or forty years in which both the society 
and government of that country underwent profound changes. 
The conservatives completely dominated by the clergy were 
bent upon retaining the old monarchy. The liberals were equally 
strong in their desire to establish republican institutions. The 
struggle between the old order and the new kept Mexico in almost 
constant revolution from 1821 to 1855. In this period, the form 
of government was changed eight times and the country was 
ruled by thirty-five different administrations.^ Romero, one 
of the recent ministers of Mexico to this country, says that 
conditions during this time were very similar to those existing 
in European countries during the feudal regime. The clergy, 
he maintains, were really feudal barons monopolizing the 
wealth and education of the country find exerting a powerful 
influence over the minds of the people.- Webster in 1846 gave 
it as his opinion that Mexico had had one of the most irregular 
and worst governments that had ever existed on earth. 

Such conditions inevitably led to many difficulties between 
Mexico and the foreign nations whose citizens resided in that 
country or had business interests there. Many Americans were 
engaged in Mexican trade, and they soon made numerous com- 
plaints because of confiscation of property and personal mis- 
treatment. For twenty years prior to the Mexican War these 
complaints constituted one of the most important subjects of 
controversy between the two nations. It was impossible to 
keep them from being blended with the other questions under 
diplomatic discussion. This fact has led to much confusion of 
thought regarding their true significance in the relations between 
the two countries. 

Every president of the United States from Jackson to Bu- 
chanan, with the possible exception of Van Buren, ardently desired 
to secure the two Mexican provinces of Texas and California. 
Whenever any of these executives pressed the redress of the 

1 Romero, Mexico and the United States, pp. 374-376. 
Ubid., p. 369. 


viii Introduction. 

claims upon Mexico, their opponents at once raised the cry that 
they were doing it for the purpose of furthering their ulterior 
designs. The foundation of this antagonism lay in the great 
slavery controversy. To secure Texas and California meant 
the increase of slave-state power. The enemies of this policy 
were so blinded by their feelings that they could view no hostile 
movement toward Mexico in any other light than that it was 
intended to precipitate a war which would result in the addition 
of new slave territory to the Union. John Quincy Adams was 
the great leader in this view, and he never tired in forcing it upon 
Congress and the country. Many American historians have 
accepted his interpretation, notably Jay, Livermore, Von Hoist, 
and Schouler. 

On the other hand the administrations that dealt with the 
claims unduly magnified their importance. Statements that 
proceeded from them would lead to the belief that the claims 
constituted at any time after 1836 a legitimate and sufficient 
cause for war. Jackson was ready to go to war over them in 
1837, and Van Buren thought he was warranted in doing so. 
Tyler held that we would be doing right in taking redress into 
our own hands. And after the Mexican War became a fact, 
Polk practically justified it on the sole ground that the injuries 
done to our citizens deserved indemnification. "To reject 
indemnity," runs his third annual message of 1847, "by refusing 
to accept a cession of territory would be to abandon all our just 
demands, and to wage the war, bearing all its expenses, without 
a purpose or definite object." 

The views of neither side are to be accepted. One side unduly 
minimized the importance of the claims because they thought 
they were mere tools in the hands of slavery advocates. The 
other side unduly magnified their importance, because they 
either overestimated them as a grievance or because they wished 
to use them to further other projects, which projects, however 
were not the same as those attributed to the authors of them 
by their enemies. The aim of this thesis is to trace the history 
of the claims for the purpose of showing just what part they 
played, in connection with other events, in bringing about the 
Mexican War. 


The Policies of Jackson and Van Buren with Reference 
TO the Claims— 1829-1838 

Before Jackson became president, a few claims had been 
brought to the notice of the Mexican government, but they 
were very unimportant and created sUght discussion.^ But 
conditions had already arisen which were to affect the subsequent 
history of the claims, since events had occurred which had tended 
to arouse the suspicion of Mexico regarding the good will of the 
United States. Texas had already been populated almost 
wholly by Americans, and Mexico was aware of the great interest 
that this country had in that province. United States had made 
two attempts to purchase it, one in 1825 and the other in 1827.'- 
Mexico refused to ratify the treaty of amity, commerce, and 
navigation negotiated in 1828 because there was appended to it 
an article dealing with the Texas boundary.^ Prior to 1829 
therefore, the one great question had arisen which was to com- 
plicate all the relations between the two countries for the next 
twenty years. Besides this another trivial circumstance had 
occurred which went a long way toward increasing Mexico's 
ill-feeling toward the United States. Ponisett, the first minister 
from this country to Mexico, had, during his residence there 
from 1825 to 1829, taken great interest in the York branch of 
the Masonic lodge. This organization was an agent of the 
liberal party, and the conservatives at once accused Ponisett of 
attempting to aid the establishment of republican institutions. 
Some of the state legislatures of Mexico went so far as to pass 
resolutions asking the central government to order him out of 
the country.* 

Mexico's ill-will was to be changed by Jackson's policy into 

1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 33-35 
and 261-263. 

■^ American State Papers, P'oreign Relations. Vol. 6, p. 580, and House 
Documents, 25th Congress, 1st Session. No. 42, pp. 8-10. 

'House Documents, 2.5th Congress, Lst Session. No. 42, p. 26. For the 
treaty see American State Papers, Foreign Relations. Vol. 6, pp. 952-957. 

^Niles' Register, Vol. 33, pp. 13-14, 23-26; Vol. 35, p. 365; and Vol. 37, p. 

2 Graduate School Publications. 

bitter hostility. Upon Ponisett's recall, he appointed Anthony 
Butler charge da'ffaires to take his place. Butler had never 
filled any important civil position; was totally unacquainted 
with the Spanish language; and was, as he himself admitted, 
"a perfect novice in diplomacy."^ He was one of Jackson's old 
comrades in arms, and it seems certain that the friendship that 
had existed between them for more than twenty years was the 
sole reason that led to his appointment. His conduct as head 
of the legation shows that he was wholly unfitted for such an 
important trust, whether viewed from the standpoint of ability 
or character. More than this, Butler was sent to Mexico under 
practically two sets of instructions. The one from the Depart- 
ment of State outlined the chief topicsofhis mission, and enjoined 
upon him as his chief duty the reestablishing of harmony. The 
other came from Jackson personally, and imposed upon him the 
important task of purchasing Texas. Had Butler been an expe- 
rienced diplomat, he could scarcely have accom.plished both 
these objects. 

The general instructions issued to him on October 16, 1829, 
pointed out that one of the most important duties of his mission 
would be that of protecting American citizens in Mexico by 
securing their persons and property against all undue exactions 
or illegal exercise of power on the part of local authorities. ^ But- 
ler represented this country in Mexico until the close of the 
year 1835, and during this time complaints rapidly multiplied. 
Interposition was asked for in so many cases that in February, 
1832, and again in July, 1833, the Department of State urged 
him to press them more forcibly upon the attention of the Mexi- 
can Government.^ 

In accordance with these instructions, Butler addressed a note, 
October 16, 1833, to Garcia, Minister of Foreign Affairs, asking 
him to appoint an early date for an interview at which a plan 
might be devised for adjusting all the claims in the archives of 
the legation.* Garcia rephed, October 24, that the Vice-Presi- 
dent had directed him to say that the most convenient method 
of settling the complaints would be for each claimant to present 

1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 381- 

2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 40-42. 
^Ihid., pp. 83 and 106. 

*Ibid., p. 502. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 3 

himself with his papers at the Treasury Department. He held 
that there was no need of appointing a date, but curtly added, 
"However, should that gentleman still insist upon an interview^ 
after what has been here said, the undersigned will have the 
honor of appointing a day where he will repeat to him the resolu- 
tion referred to above. "^ 

Butler immediately notified McLane, Secretary of State, of 
the action that had been taken, and said that he had informed 
certain claimants of the decision which Mexico had m.ade, where- 
upon they presented themselves to the Treasury Department 
only to be met with the reply that no claim would be investi- 
gated until the whole number outstanding had been laid before 
the department. It was his opinion that the whole policy had 
been designed for the purpose of evasion and delay. Garcia's 
reply to his request for an interview was pronounced insulting 2 
Butler again wrote McLane, March 2, 1834, saying that claims 
contmued to multiply, and when they were presented Mexico 
put forth the excuse that they were due to the conduct of faction- 
ists or state officials and for this the central government could 
not be held responsible.^ 

McLane answered Butler's notes on June 24, 1834, declaring 
that the United States must hold the federal government of 
Mexico responsible for such injuries to citizens as merited national 
mterposition. He pronounced as unreasonable the policy Mexico 
had adopted in making the claimants appear at the Treasury 
Department. "The President also wishes," said the letter, 
"that if a prompt and favorable answer should not be giveii 
upon this as well as upon the other points at issue between the 
two Governments, you will present my letter to the Minister of 
Foreign Affairs, and return home. " In the event of his leaving, 
however, he was to make it known that he had no intent of 
interrupting the friendly relations between the two nations." 

Butler evidently felt that it was not necessary to take the 
step suggested, for on October 20 he wrote that he felt certain 
he could settle all the questions in dispute between the two 
countries aft er the meeting of the Mexican Congress in the 

^Ibid., pp. 502-503. 

^HouseDocuments, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol 12 No 351 n .501 
' Ibid., pp. 517-518. ' . i • • • 

' House Documents, 25tli Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 144- 

4 Graduate School Puhlications. 

following January. The House now called for information on 
the subject; and, on January 6, 1835, Jackson submitted a letter 
written the day before by Forsyth, Secretary of State. This 
letter reported that various representations had been made by 
the United States upon Mexico with reference to the claims, 
but that the conditions in that country had made it impossible 
to secure any satisfaction. The hope was held out that by 
exercising forbearance the difficulty would be adjusted without 
trouble.' This report was evidently based on Butler's state- 
ments, but his hopes failed to materiaUze. 

So far as the claims were concerned, Butler succeeded in doing 
only one thing of importance during his residence in Mexico, and 
that was the conclusion of a treaty of amity, commerce, and 
navigation in April, 1831. This treaty was ratified April 5, 
1832, and was in almost the exact language of that negotiated 
by Ponisett earlier. It entered at length into the details of the 
policy that the contracting parties would pursue in case difficul- 
ties arose. The courts of each country were to be open to the 
citizens of the other in case they needed them. It was agreed 
that neither country would declare war against the other without 
first formally stating grievances accompanied by proof.^ This 
treaty, although often quoted, proved to be practically worthless. 

The real importance of Butler's mission, however, cannot be 
fully understood unless his conduct with reference to the Texas 
question be known. Just before Ponisett's recall, Jackson had 
instructed Van Buren, Secretary of State, to issue him elaborate 
directions regarding the purchase of Texas ;^ but, due to his 
withdrawal, they came to naught. Butler's general instructions 
of October 16, 1929, did not take up the subject; but three days 
after they were issued, Jackson sent a personal letter to him 
calling his attention to the importance of Texas.* From this 
letter it is certain that Jackson intended the chief object of But- 
ler's mission to be that of securing territory. 

That Mexico understood this object is evidenced by the fact 
that no sooner had Butler reached Mexico than Alaman, Secre- 
tary of State, presented a report to the Congress of that country 

1 House Documents, 23d Congress, 2d 8ession. Vol. 2, No. 61. 

2 Treaties and Conventions, pp. 544-555. 

2 House Documents, 2.5th Congress, 1st Session. No. 42, i)p. 10-16. 
^Jackson MSS Library of Congress. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 5 

bitterly assailing the designs of the United States.^ In spite of 
the fact that Mexico had become extremely sensitive upon this 
point, Butler pressed the object of his mission with great enthu- 
siasm, and conducted himself in a manner which was, to say the 
least, highly disgraceful. He tried every scheme he could think 
of — teasing, threatening, and above all bribing.^ 

This conduct caused him to be so thoroughly hated in Mexico 
that the United States was asked to recall him. He did not 
return to this country for nearly a j^ear, and during that time 
he got into all sorts of personal difficulties, one of which ended 
in his challenging to a duel General Tornel, the Mexican Secretary 
of War.3 He was finally ordered by the Mexican government 
to leave the country within eight days.* It would be putting it 
too mildly to say that his mission was unfortunate. At the very 
time when Mexico was beginning to grapple with a revolution in 
Texas, this country had a representative in the former trying 
all sorts of dishonorable schemes to purchase the rebelling prov- 
ince. Harmonious relations were now out of the question. 

Shortly after Butler's recall in December, 1835, the Senate 
confirmed the nomination of Powhatan Ellis of Mississippi to 
fill his place as charge d'affaires. The year 1836 is an important 
one in the history of the relations between the two countries. 
United States urges with great zeal her claims against Mexico; 
and Mexico, in turn, with equal zeal presses her grievance against 
the United States for sympathizing, if not aiding, the Texas 
Revolution. Although the two questions were separate in 
nature, it was inevitable that they should powerfully affect one 

On January 29, 1836, Forsyth, Secretary of State, wrote Ellis 
that "The claims of citizens of the United States on the Mexican 
Government for injuries to their persons or property by the 
authorities or citizens of that republic, are numerous, and of 
considerable amount; and, though many of them are of long 
standing, provision for their payment is pertinaciously withheld, 

1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 312- 

''See his letters in House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, 
No. 351. See also Barker, "Jackson and Texas Revolution." Am. His. 
Rev. Vol. 12. 

3 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, p. 600. 

''Ibid., p. 599. 

6 Graduate School Publications. 

and the justice of most of them has not been acknowledged." 
The letter stated that while the President was willing to look with 
indulgent consideration upon the almost incessant commotions 
in Mexico which made it difficult for her to render justice, he 
yet thought that these troubles afforded no sufficient apology for 
refusing or declining to examine the claims. Ellis was, therefore, 
instructed to embrace the first opportunity to impart these 
sentiments to the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs.^ 

Ellis early made up his mind that the United States had been 
pursuing the wrong policy, for on May 28 he wrote: "The 
long forbearance of our Government in relation to the numerous 
outrages on our Commerce has had the most unhappy influences 
on the Mexican people. They look upon us as either too imbecile, 
or afraid to indicate our just rights; and hence the continual 
injuries inflicted upon the persons and property of citizens of the 
United States. So long, then, as these impressions prevail here, 
I am deprived of the power of rendering but little service to my 
countrymen. The protestations and statements, heretofore 
made by the legation in regard to their claims, have been post- 
poned from time to time, and ultimately evaded by some pretext, 
not founded in the justice of the cases. An examination of the 
records in this office confirms me in this opinion; as I am unable 
to find a single case where indemnification has been awarded to, 
and payment received by, the claimant. Under this state of 
things, I would respectfully suggest the propriety of pursuing a 
different policy in our intercourse with the Mexican States. They 
ought to be made to understand that the seizure and condemna- 
tion of the property, and the imprisonment of American citizens, 
without in some instances even the color of law to warrant it, 
will be arrested by a Government whose uniform policy has been 
to resist violence and aggression from all foreign powers." ^ 

Ellis's suggestion was accepted by the Department of State, 
and on July 20, 1836, he was informed that further delay in the 
acknowledgment, if not in the redress, of the claims could not 
be acquiesced in compatibly with the dignity, rights, and inter- 
ests of the United States. The instructions briefly stated fifteen 

1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 160- 

2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 591- 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 7 

claims ' for which the interposition of this government had been 
asked since the ratification of the treaty of amity, commerce, 
and navigation April 5, 1832. "Though the department," says 
the letter, "is not in possession of proof of all the circumstances 
of the wrongs done in the above cases, as represented by the 
aggrieved parties, yet the complaints are such as to entitle them 
to be listened to, and to justify a demand on the Mexican Govern- 
ment that they shall be prom.ptly and properly examined, and 
that suitable redress shall be afforded. You will, therefore, 
immediately address a strong but respectful representation to the 
Mexican Government on the subject of these various injuries. 
You v/ill also remind it of the numerous other complainCs which 
have been made from time to time, and which still remain unre- 
dressed. You will likewise set forth the great forbearance which 
the Government of the United States has practised towards 
Mexico, and the friendly and benevolent motives which have 
led to it; and you will state that the President, finding this mod- 
eration and forbearance, so far from being appreciated by Mexico, 
seem only to be met by new injuries, is constrained by a high 
sense of duty, to ask of the Mexican Government such reparation 
as these accumulated wrongs may, on examination, be found to 
require. " 

The instructions concluded with the outline of a definite pol- 
icy which Ellis was to pursue: "If, contrary to the President's 
hopes, no satisfactory answer shall be given to this just and 
reasonable demand within three weeks, you will inform the 
Mexican Government that, unless redress is afforded without 
unnecessary delay, your further residence in Mexico will be 
useless. If this state of things continue longer, you will give 
formal notice to the Mexican Government, that unless a satis- 
factory answer shall be given within a fortnight, you are in- 
structed to ask for your passports; and, at the end of that time, 
if you do not receive such answer, it is the President's direction 
that you demand your passports and return to the United States, 
bringing with you the archives of the legation." ^ 

In accordance with these directions, Ellis addressed on Sep- 
tember 26, 1836, a letter to Monasterio, the Acting Minister of 
Foreign Affairs of Mexico. With a few minor changes, he stated 

1 For brief statement of each of these claims see Appendix I. 

2 House Docmnents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp. 24-27. 

8 Graduate School Puhlications 

the specific claims in almost the exact language of his instruc- 
tions. To these he added in rather strong terms some general 
grievances. "The flag of the United States," he said, "has 
been repeatedly insulted and fired upon by the pubUc armed 
vessels of this Government; her consuls, in almost every port 
of the republic, have been maltreated and insulted by the pub- 
lic authorities; her citizens, while in the pursuit of a lawful and 
peaceful trade, have been murdered on the high seas by a licen- 
tious and unrestrained soldiery. Others have been arrested and 
scouraged in the streets by the military, like common male- 
factors; they have been seized and imprisoned under the most 
frivolous pretexts; their property has been condemned and 
confiscated, in violation of existing treaties and the acknowl- 
edged laws of nations; and large sums of money have been ex- 
acted of them, contrary to all law." His letter closed with a 
demand for reparation in all the specific cases cited and due 
satisfaction for the numerous insults offered to the United States. ^ 

Monasterio answered, October 3, saying that as it was neces- 
sary to examine numerous documents in order to comply with the 
demand; an order had been issued to have them collected at the 
Department of State where they would be examined and re- 
ported upon "with all despatch."^ 

Ellis waited until October 20, and then notified Monasterio 
that unless redress were afforded without unnecessary delay his 
longer residence in Mexico would be useless.^ Monasterio an- 
swered the next day that his government did not understand how 
a delay in the reply to any note, however grave its subject might 
be, could be considered a sufficient cause for taking the step 
referred to. He pointed out that in the present case it was 
clearly understood that the delay had been occasioned by the 
want of documents, a circumstance which was beyond the con- 
trol of his government. He declared that the requisitions had 
already been made for the documents, and that he would occupy 
himself exclusively with the matter.^ Ellis did not consider 
this a "favorable response"; and, on November 4, he wrote that 
unless a satisfactory answer were received within the space of 

1 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp. 

2 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, p. 34. 
^Ihid., pp. 42-43. 

1 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp. 44-45. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 9 

two weeks from date he would demand his passports and return 
to the United States. ^ 

This situation led Monasterio to make a reply to Ellis's letter 
of September 26, presenting the claims. He began with the 
observation that the claims were confined to the affairs of indi- 
viduals, and, therefore, belonged to the judiciary rather than 
to the central government. The fourteenth article of the tPeaty 
of amity, commerce, and navigation had provided specifically 
for such cases since it has stipulated that each nation would 
eave open to the citizens of the other its tribunals of justice. 
He then analyzed each specific claim presented. Two, he re- 
cognized as vaUd; on nine, he deferred judgment because of the 
lack of information; one he pronounced grossly exaggerated; and 
two, he openly denied. He intimated that some of those on 
which he had deferred final judgment were exaggerated because 
the claimants wished to reap advantage or escape justice. He 
also thought that some of the claimants had suffered because 
they were ignorant of Mexican laws, but for this his government 
could not be held responsible. In regard to the insults that had 
been given to the officers and flag of the United States, he said, 
"These charges are made in terms so general, the Supreme 
Government of the republic desires that they may be specified 
before taking them into consideration." He resented Ellis's 
use of the words, "illegal," "arbitrary," and "violent" as char- 
acteristic of the acts of Mexico; and he likewise resented the 
statement that the President of the United States had always 
treated Mexico with special indulgence. The statement was 
repeated that the delay in answering a note was not sufficient 
cause for severing diplomatic intercourse, and the fact was 
neatly pointed out that the United States had not, up to Octo- 
ber 4, given any reply to notes which the Mexican Minister 
there had addressed to it in the months of August and September 
and upon subjects of the greatest importance. The whole letter 
bore marks of fairness, careful thought, and complete self- 
control on the part of the author.'^ 

On November 30, Ellis wrote Forsyth that Monasterio's 
letter was "wholly unsatisfactory" and that, if nothing occurred 
to produce a change, he would demand his passports in two or 

^Ibid., pp. 45-46. 

2 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 50-59. 

10 Graduate School Publications. 

three days.^ A week later he carried out his intentions. On 
December 7, he wrote Monasterio a long letter, taking issue 
with him on the interpretation of the fourteenth article of the 
treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation. He held that each 
country agreed to leave its courts open to the citizens of the 
other in order to avoid the delay incident to an appeal to the 
central government, and not with any intention to preclude 
other modes of redress. "If the language of that article," says . 
the letter, "confines citizens of the United States to seek pro- 
tection in the judicial tribunals of the country, in certain cases, 
it would follow, as a necessary consequence, that their decisions 
would be final. ... It will be recollected that many of the 
claims now urged for adjustment arise out of the illegal seizure 
and condemnation of vessels and cargoes, by the same tribunals 
to which, your excellency is pleased to say, we can alone resort 
for indemnification." This doctrine would deny to the United 
States "the exercise of an unquestioned right of sovereignty to 
make investigation into all cases where complaints are made." 
He resented Monasterio's implication that some of the claimants 
were smugglers ; and to his request that some of the claims should 
be presented in a more specific manner, he replied that he could 
see no good likely to come from it judging from the way Mexico 
had treated those already in her possession. "With all these 
facts before him," he concluded, "the undersigned entertains 
no hope of a satisfactory adjustment of the questions in contro- 
versy between the United States of America and Mexico. He 
has patiently waited three weeks for some evidence of a more 
favorable disposition to render justice to his injured country, 
biit he has waited in vain; and, whatever may be the conse- 
quences, he now feels it to be his duty, in compliance with in- 
structions, to request that his excellency the President ad interim 
will be pleased to furnish him with the necessary passports to 
leave the Mexican republic."^ 

In the meantime, important events affecting the relations 
between the two countries had taken place in Washington. 
During the spring of 1836 Texas had established an independ- 
ent government and had practically demonstrated the fact that 
she was able to maintain it. Her agents were in the United 

1 House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, p. 46. 
^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 60-67. 

Cla.i7ns as a Cause of the Mexican War. 11 

States seeking both recognition and annexation.^ Congress took 
up both these questions ; ^ and the interest that this country had 
in Texas was patent to everyone. When Jackson instructed 
General Gaines to advance to the western frontier and even 
enter Texas territory if necessary to prevent Indian depredations, 
Gorostiza, the Mexican Minister in Washington, protested. He 
accused this government of winking at the aid which was con- 
stantly going to the revolutionists from this country. When 
General Gaines did cross the boundary and advance to Nacog- 
doches, he demanded his passports and left Washington because 
Jackson did not comply with his demand that Gaines should be 
recalled.^ Before he withdrew, he wrote and circulated among 
the diplomatic corps at Washington a pamphlet which assailed 
in the most bitter manner the bad faith of this government 
toward Mexico.* 

It is impossible to determine from public documents the pre- 
cise effect which Gorostiza's conduct had upon the withdrawal 
of Ellis. Jackson in his annual message of December 5, 1836, 
nearly two months after the departure of the Mexican minister, 
said that although the claims remained unredressed they hoped 
"by tempering firmness with courtesy, and acting with great 
forbearance' ' to obtain justice and avoid bringing the matter 
again before Congress.^ Five days later, he directed Forsyth 
to notify Ellis that if Mexico sanctioned Gorostiza's conduct, 
he should demand his passports and return to the United States.^ 
This letter, however, could not have reached Ellis in time to 
have influenced his action. On December 21, the Mexican 
government sanctioned its minister's conduct; '' and, on the same 
day, Ellis wrote Forsyth, saying, "I am fully persuaded that 
nothing but a prompt, firm, and decisive course of action on the 
part of the Congress of the United States, will induce these 
people to adjust the subjects of controversy between the two 

1 Garrison. Texan Diplomatic Correspondence. Annual Report of the 
American Historical Association for the year 1907. Vol. 2. 

^ Debates in Congress, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 12. 

^ For correspondence, see House Documents, 24th Congress, 1st Session. 
Vol. 6, No. 256. 

^For pamphlet, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 
7, No. 190. 

^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 5. 

^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 105, pp. 47-50. 

^ House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 239, pp. 81-82. 

12 Graduate School Publications. 

governments." ^ The next day Ellis made his final demand for 

Monasterio did not send Ellis his passports, but on December 
24 wrote him asking that he state definitely what causes had 
prompted him to take the step in order that in the future the 
responsibility for the results might rest where it ]:elonged.^ 
Ellis considered this a discourteous refusal of his passports, 
and made no reply. ^ On the morning of the 27th, Monasterio 
again asked for a reply; but as none was made, he sent the pass- 
ports in the evening.^ Thus, at the close of the year 1836, the 
diplomatic relations between the two countries were completely 

On February 6, 1837, Jackson placed the situation before 
Congress. "At the beginning of this session," said the message, 
"Congress was informed that our claims upon Mexico had not been 
adjusted, but that, notwithstanding the irritating effect upon her 
councils of the movements in Texas, I hoped, by great forbear- 
ance, to avoid the necessity of again bringing the subject of them 
to your notice. That hope has been disappointed. Having, 
in vain, urged upon that Government the justice of those claims, 
and my indispensable obligation to insist that there should be 
no further delay in the acknowledgment, if not in the redress, 
of the injuries complained of, my duty requires that the whole 
subject should be presented, as it now is, for the action of Con- 
gress, whose exclusive right it is to decide on the further measures 
of redress to be employed. The length of time since some of 
these injuries have been committed, the repeated and unavail- 
ing applications for redress, the wanton character of some of the 
outrages upon the property and persons of our citizens, inde- 
pendent of recent insults to this Government and people by the 
late extraordinary Mexican Minister, would justify, in the eyes 
of all nations, immediate war. That remedy, however, should 
not be used by just and generous nations, confiding in their 
strength, for injuries committed, if it can be honorabl}^ avoided; 

1 MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from agents in 
Mexico. Vol. 8. 

* House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 67-68. 
3 Ibid., pp. 82-83. 

* House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 

^Ibid., pp. 84-85. 

Claims as a Cavse of Ihe Mexican War. 13 

and it has occurred to me that, considering the P'.e.ent embar- 
rassed condition of that country, we should act with both w s 
dom and moderation by giving to Mexico one more opportumty 
to atone for the past, before we take redress into our own hands. 
ToToid all misconception on the part of Mexico, as well as to 
protect our own national character from reproach, this oppor u- 
nitv should be given with the avowed design and full preparation 
to take immedfate satisfaction if it should not be obtained on a 
repetition of the demand for it. To this end, I recommend that 
an act be passed authorizing reprisals, and the use of the mival 
force of the United States, by the Executive, agamst Mexico, 
to enforce them, in the event of a refusal by the Mexican govern- 
ment to come to an amicable adjustment of the matters in con- 
troversy between us, upon another demand thereof made from 
on hoard one of our vessels of war on the coast of Mexico. 

Appended to this message was a list of forty-six grievances 
ac^ainst Mexico. Two of the fifteen claims which Ellis had been 
f,:structed to present had been adjusted; the other thirteen were 
c uded in the list. Of the remaining thirty-three twenty-nme 
bore a date prior to the ratification of the treaty of amity, com- 
merce, and navigation on April 5. 1832. Some of these were 
Tses which had arisen while Mexico was under Spamsh rule. 
Three of the claims were not dated at all. In twenty-two the 
amount of the damage claimed was stated, but >» /h^^ "t^er 
twenty-four it was not even approximately given. A footnote 
to the list says, "It is proper to mention, that the above is no 
considered a full exhibit of the just claims of citizens of the United 
States on the Mexican Government."' 

Buchanan, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Fo eign 
Relations, made a report on the message, ^^^^''^^'y J^'.'^^J^ 
This agreed with the President that the injuries would justify 
„a but it recommended that it w^ould be better to follow the 
thirty-fourth article of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navi- 
gation wlh had stipulated that in case of difficulties neither 
S'Jould go to wa' or make reprisals without first presenting 
a statement of injuries verified by competent proof^ Af er 
such a demand," continued the report, "should prompt justice 
be refused by the Mexican Government, we may appeal to all 

.House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139, pp. 1-2. 
= House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 139. 

14 Graduate School Publications. 

nations, not only for the equity and moderation \vith which we 
shall have acted toward a sister Republic, but for the necessity 
which will then compel us to seek redress for our wrongs, either 
by actual war, or by reprisals." The committee sanctioned the 
President's conduct in authorizing General Gaines to advance 
to Nacogdoches, and pronounced the pamphlet of the Mexican 
minister a "glaring impropriety," and a gross violation of diplo- 
matic courtesy. The report closed with a resolution concurring 
with the President in his request for another demand, and declar- 
ing that if it did not bring redress, "a state of things will then 
have occurred which will make it the imperative duty of Con- 
gress promptly to consider what further measures may be re- 
quired by the honor of the nation and the rights of our injured 
fellow citizens."^ 

When read hastily, the report sounds war-like; but when read 
critically, it appears in a very different light. It agreed v/ith the 
President that one more demand should be made upon Mexico; 
but, in the event of refusal, it did not authorize reprisals nor 
did it bind Congress to any specific policy. Much was said 
about the justice of going to war, but nothing about going to 
war. Some incidents connected with the preparation of the 
report lead to the belief that there was Uttle desire of resorting 
to hostile measures. 

Four days before it was presented, Tallmadge, one of the com- 
mittee, addressed from the Senate Chamber a note to Van Buren, 
President elect, saying: ''The Committee on Foreign Relations 
met this morning on our Mexican affairs. They are not very 
belligerent — and, as it is a matter which your administration will 
have to shoulder, the committee feel that your views should be 
consulted. The committee have adjourned to tomorrow morning. 
In the meantime, if I hear nothing to the contrary, Mr. Buchanan, 
and myself will, after dining at Mr. Pleasontons's, call on you this 
evening on this subject."^ Van Buren evidently not wishing to 
talk, gave the note one of his characteristically non-committal 
answers. He said that, wuth the knowledge he had upon the 
subject, he could not see how Jackson could have avoided, under 
the circumstances, making the recommendations that he had to 
Congress. This bod}', he thought, would direct what was proper 

1 Congressional Globe, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, pp. 193-194. 
2 Van Buren MSS., Library of Congress. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War 15 

in the matter and so far as he was concerned he would do all in 
his power to carry out their directions.^ 

The report was also subnutted to Forsyth, perhaps the most 
war-like member of the administration. He returned it on the 
day that it was presented to the Senate, respectfully suggesting 
"that the committee seem to have had an imperfect knowledge 
of the facts in relation to our affairs with Mexico, and that the 
Resolution proposed to be submitted to the Senate is not consist- 
ent with the declaration of the committee that they agree in 
opinion with the President."*^ The irony of Buchanan's reply 
of the same day shows clearly how he felt. ''Such an opinion," 
he said, "emanating from the Secretary of State cannot fail to 
produce a happy effect in promoting harmony between the differ- 
ent branches of the Government. The committee will not, how- 
ever, reciprocate the complimxent paid them by the Secretary, 
lest they might do him an act of injustice, which would be ex- 
tremely repugnant to their feelings. " ^ Forsyth then denied that 
he had meant any offense;^ and the committee accepted his ex- 
planation in good faith. ^ 

From these incidents, it is apparent that there was very littlsj^ 
of the war spirit. The fact that the Senate gave the report 
scarcely any discussion likewise shows that it did not consider it 
a very serious matter. Except that of Clay, no noteworthy 
attack was made upon the report. He thought the case had 
been made out rather stronger against Mexico than the corres- 
pondence would justify. He declared that "he must say, in all 
candor and truth, that -the departure of our representative from 
Mexico, under the circumstances, was harsh, abrupt, and unnec- 
essary." He held that Mexico needed more time than was 
allowed for the examination to the documents. Although Goros- 
tiza's conduct was reprehensible, he could not see a cause for war 
in it.^ In reply, Buchanan justified Ellis, but said that the com- 
mittee did not wish to give the President power to order reprisals 
in view of the fact that Santa Anna had arrived in Washington 
and there were reasons to believe that he would soon be restored 

1 Ibid. 

2 Moore. Works of James Buchanan. Vol. 3, p. 213. 
^Ibid., p. 214. 

^ Ibid., p. 219. 
^Ibid., p. 220. 
^ Congressional Globe, 24th Congi'ess, 2d Session. Vol. 4, pp. 209-210. 

16 Graduate School Publications. 

to power in Mexico and then justice would be rendered to our 
country.^ The resolution contained in the report was then 
adopted by a unanimous vote.^ 

Howard, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Rela- 
tions, presented a report on the President's message, February 
24, 1837. The committee felt that the claims had proceeded, in 
part, from the knowledge that the Mexicans had of our form of 
government and the limited powers of its executive branch. 

"Those nations," said the report, "which permit themselves 
to disregard the remonstrances of the President, when conveyed 
through agents appointed by him, and rely for their security upon 
the limited powers which our Constitution has entrusted to that 
officer, must be taught that his complaints against injury and 
outrage do but speak, in anticipation, the voice of the entire 
people of the country. " The report fully concurred with the 
opinion of the President that ample cause existed for taking 
redress into our hands, but it recommended that, as an evidence 
of a desire to preserve peaceful relations, one more demand be 
made upon Mexico "in the most solemn form." It suggested 
that this demand be made through "a diplomatic functionary of 
the highest grade " in order to show the great importance attached 
to the mission. These recommendations were embodied in two 
resolutions at the close of the report.^ The House postponed 
action upon them from day to day and finally adjourned without 
rejecting or adopting them.'' Whether the House meant to dis- 
regard the resolutions, it is impossible to say. Howard, a year 
later, said that the House was in sympathy with them, but simply 
had failed to act because of the want of time. He pointed out 
that during the same session that body had inserted a clause in 
the appropriation bill providing for the outfit and salary of a 
minister to Mexico to the effect that such appropriation was not 
to be used unless the President felt that diplomatic intercourse 
with Mexico could be honorably renewed.^ 

Such were the conditions of the Mexican relations when Van 
Buren became President, March 4, 1837. He made no change, 
however, in the policy of sending one more solemn demand to 

1 Ibid., p. 210. 

2 Ibid., p. 210. February 27, 1837. 

^ Congressional Giobe, 24th Congress, 2cl .Session. Vol. 4, p. 202. 

* Ibid., pp. 203, 206, 213, and 215. 

^ House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056, p. 2. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 17 

Mexico for redress. In May 27, 1837, Forsyth sent a note to 
Greenhow, a clerk in the Department of State, telling him that 
he had been appointed a bearer of despatches to Mexico and 
instructing him to proceed at once to that country and deliver 
into the hands of the Minister of Foreign Affairs the packet en- 
trusted to his care. He was also directed to inform the minister 
that he would remain in the City of Mexico one week.^ The 
packet contained a letter written by Forsyth and directed to the 
Minister of Foreign Affairs and also a statement of fifty-seven 
claims accompanied by documentary proofs.^ 

Forsyth's letter reviewed the nature of the complaints and 
stated exactly what this government expected from Mexico : rep- 
aration for all the injuries which had been perpetrated upon our 
citizens or government by that republic from the date of its inde- 
pendence to the present hour. " It is the ardent wish of the Presi- 
dent of the United States, " concluded the letter, ''that the govern- 
ment of the Mexican republic will give an earnest of its disposi- 
tion to preserve the relations of concord and good neighborhood 
with this country, by bestowing its prompt attention upon this 
last demand upon its justice and honor, made according to the 
forms prescribed by the treaty between the two Governments, 
that the United States may be justified in the eyes of all nations 
for any measures they shall be compelled to take, should this 
appeal to the Government of Mexico be made in vain."^ 

The packet was deUvered July 20, 1837; and on July 29, 
Cuevas, the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, replied to 
Forsyth's letter. He said although the President of Mexico 
"earnestly desired to give to the Government of the United 
States a prompt and explicit answer upon each of the claims to 
which that communication relates, it has been impossible for him 
even to make the attempt, not only on account of the shortness of 
time within which the person commissioned to bring the documents 
is required to return, but also because the circumstances connected 
with many of the claims are so numerous, so various in their 
origin, and so distinct in their natures, that each case requires a 
mature and impartial examination." He said his government 
had already ordered the papers presented to it translated and 

1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, p. 112. 

2 For these claims, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, 
No. 3, pp. 40-108. For a brief statement of each of them, see Appendix II. 

3 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 108-112. 


18 Graduate School Publications. 

examined. These would be compared with documents in Mexico 
and others would be collected if needed. As to the manner in 
which the result of the investigation would be made known, he 
said, "The minister of Mexico in Washington will then have the 
honor to communicate successively to Mr. Forsyth, the opinion 
of the President upon each case, and the resolution adopted by 
him in consequence. " ^ 

On May 14, 1837, the President of Mexico appointed Martinez 
Minister to the United States;^ and in October, this government 
acknowledged him.^ On November 18, the new minister ad- 
dressed ten notes to Forsyth, each one discussing a claim upon 
which the Mexican government had taken action. The first of 
these notes is important since it dealt with the complaint regard- 
ing the publication of the pamphlet by Gorostiza, the former 
Mexican minister to this country. His conduct was justified on 
the grounds that he had meant no offense and had been compelled 
to do as he had done in order to put himself in the proper light 
before his countrymen. It was denied that he had violated dip- 
lomatic courtesy since he had published the pamphlet in the 
Spanish language and not in the English and had not himself 
circulated it am'ong the diplomatic corps in Washington. In 
justification of this point, it was further added that the corre- 
spondence he had quoted did not relate to a pending question 
nor was much of it even secret. The case of the American Com- 
missioners at Ghent was cited to show that Gorostiza had not 
acted without precedent. Of the nine remaining notes, only 
three dealt with claims that had been presented by Greenhow. 
Two of these were denied and one acknowledged.^ With the 
exception of Forsyth's letter^ to Martinez, November 24, 1837, 
presenting six new claims, no other event of importance occurred 
before the opening of Congress in December. 

On December 2, 1837, Fors3i:h made a careful report on the 
claims controversy as it then stood. This report said that the 
fifty-seven claims presented to Mexico had been prepared with 
great care so that none might be of a doubtful character. It 

1 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 115-116. 

2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 2, No. 351, pp. 751-752. 
2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 157-158. 
^ For these notes, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 

1, No. 3, pp. 119-132. 
^Ibid., pp. 159-162. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 19 

then described the manner in which the Mexican government 
had dealt with them. Instead of using the hst as presented by 
Greenhow, the hst appended to Jackson's message of February 
6, 1837, had been fohowed-^ Consequently, six of the ten notes 
sent to Forsyth, November 18, dealt with claims that had been 
withdrawn. This made it appear that Mexico had not even ex- 
amined the documents as presented in July. Only four of the 
fifty-seven claims had received any consideration. The report 
answered at length the arguments that Mexico had advanced in 
defence of Gorostiza's conduct in publishing the pamphlet. In 
closing, it gave a rather gloomy picture of the situation existing 
in the relations between the two countries. Embargoes had been 
laid upon American vessels; ships had been captured for disre- 
garding pretended blockades; cargoes had been confiscated without 
legal procedure; and officers, crews, and passengers had been 
plundered and imprisoned. "From these facts, " said the report, 
"a judgment may be formed of the value of the assurances that 
have been received from the Mexican Government, and the 
probabihty of their ever being fulfilled." The whole document 
was bitter in tone and would have made a good war message to 

Van Buren submitted this report to Congress along with his 
annual message of December 5, 1837. In the message, he re- 
viewed the history of the negotiations for the past year and said 
that he could see no way in which the executive alpne could do 
anything to bring the unfortunate controversy to a close. In 
view of this fact, he asserted, "it has become my painful duty to 
return the subject as it now stands, to Congress, to whom it be- 
longs to decide upon the time, the mode, and the measure of 
redress. Whatever may be your decision, it shall be faithfully 
executed, confident that it will be characterized by that modera- 
tion and justice which will, I trust, under all circumstances, govern 
the councils of our country. "^ 

Before Congress took up the subject for discussion, plans were 
already under way for the submission of the claims to arbitration; 
so what took place in Congress was merely an expression of opin- 
ion. These opinions, however, are interesting and worthy of 

1 See House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 


2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 31-39. 

3 Senate Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 6-8. 

20- Graduate School Publications. 

consideration. Walker asked in the Senate, April 11, 1838, when 
the Committee on Foreign relations intended to make a report 
on the Mexican relations. He suggested that Congress do as the 
French government was doing — send a sufficient squadron to 
demand instantaneous redress, and if not granted to blockade the 
ports of Mexico.^ Buchanan replied that the committee had 
held several informal meetings on the subject and had concluded 
to await the action of the House since the next step taken might 
be a war measure and such would proceed with better grace from 
that body.2 Clay criticised the mission of Greenhow, declaring 
that it had not allowed Mexico time enough to examine the papers 
and that the whole correspondence had been characterized by a 
want of dignity and temper.^ Preston was willing to stand for 
any abuse with reference to the pecuniary claims, but for none 
where the flag had been insulted.* Benton thought we might 
negotiate until doomsday and redress be as far off as ever.^ 
King counseled caution since he thought many of our claims 
would not bear scrutiny.^ This forced Buchanan to acknowledge 
that some of the complaints were not well-founded. '^ From the 
spirit in which the Senate discussed the question, it seems quite 
apparent that no hostile measure would have been sanctioned 
even if there had been on foot no plan to submit the claims to 

It is impossible even to speculate upon the action the House 
might have taken had not Mexico offered to arbitrate. As it 
was, it did practically nothing. It was the last day of the session, 
July 7, 1838, before the Committee on Foreign Relations made 
any report on the Mexican relations. A majority of the commit- 
tee then justified Greenhow 's mission and condemned the plan 
of arbitration, but offered no resolutions to be passed upon. 
Gushing made a minority report favoring the arbitration proposal.* 
All possible danger of war, if there had ever been any, was now 

1 Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session, pp. 298-299. In 1838 
France did resort to war measures against Mexico in order to secure indemnity. 
See British and Foreign State Papers. Vol 27, pp. 1176-1214. 

2 Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session, p. 299. 
^Ibid., p. 299. 

* Ibid., p. 300. 

^Ibid., p. 300. 

^Ibid., p. 300. 

' Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session, p. 301. 

« House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056 (15 pages). 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 21 

passed, and the claims controversy was to be dealt with in an- 
other manner. 

Although Congress took no action upon that part of the Presi- 
dent's message deahng with the Mexican relations, nevertheless 
the subject received very important consideration in another 
connection. The House was having its famous stormy session 
over the right of petition and freedom of debate. It was at the 
close of this session that Adams occupied the greater part of the 
morning hour for three weeks in exposing the perfidy of the men 
in the government who had been and were being dominated by 
the slave interests. In this speech, the whole policy of the United 
States towards Mexico was treated in the most caustic manner.^ 

"The perpetual teasing of the Government of Mexico," he 
said, "for cessions of territory, increasing in amount in propor- 
tion as the proposals were repelled with disgust; the constant 
employment of agents civil and military, for all official inter- 
course, with Mexico and Texas, citizens of states most intensely 
bent upon the acquisition of Texas, such as Anthony Butler, 
Powhatan Ellis, and General Gaines; the uninterrupted inti- 
macy with General Houston, from the egg to the apple of the 
Texian revolt; the promise to Hutchins G. Burton, of the Gov- 
ernment of Texas; the wanton, unprovoked, and unconstitu- 
tional discretionary power given to General Gaines to invade 
the Mexican territory; the apparent concert between that officer, 
in the execution of this authority, with the Texian Commanding 
General Houston; the cold indifference to every complaint on 
the part of Mexico, against all the violations of our obligations 
of amity and neutrality towards her; the disingenious evasion of 
a direct answer by the wooden-nutmeg distinction that a direction 
not to go beyond Nacogdoches was not equivalent to an authority 
to go as far as Nacogdoches; the contemptuous treatment of all 
the protests of Mexican minister, Gorostiza, and the prepos- 
terous importance attempted to be given to his printing a pam- 
phlet in the Spanish language, exposing the bad faith of this 
Government in their treatment of his mission, and circulating 
a few copies of it before his departure from this country, — in 
all these things there is a mutual coincidence and coherence 

1 Adams' Speech on the Right, of Petition, Freedom of Speech and Debate, 
etc., dehvered in the House from June 16 to July 7, 1838. Not printed in the 
Congressional Globe, but published in pamphlet form. Copy in New York 
Public Library. 

22 Graduate School Publications. 

which makes them perpetual commentaries upon each other." 
He said Elhs had been ''famishing for Texas," and had been 
employed "for the single purpose of giving a relish to these last 
resources of pacific and conciliatory councils." He declared 
hat no true-hearted citizen of this country could read his letter 
to Monasterio of October 20, 1836, and the answer given to 
it on the next day without blushing for his country. Of Green- 
how's mission, he spoke just as bitterly. This agent, he asserted, 
had been sent "with a budget of grievances, good ajid bad, 
new and old, stuffed with wrongs, as full as Falstaff's buck- 
basket with foul linen, to be turned over under the nose of the 
Mexican Secretary of State, with an allowance of one week to 
examine, search out, and answer concerning all." "From the 
day of the battle of San Jacuito," he maintained, "every move- 
ment of the Administration of this Union appears to have been 
made for the express purpose of breaking off negotiations and 
precipitating a war, or of frightening Mexico by menaces into 
cession of not only Texas, but of the whole course of the Rio 
del Norte, and five degrees of latitude across the continent to 
the South Sea. "^ 

These statements, taken with the rest of the speech, make it 
certain that Adams felt that the whole policy of the United States 
towards Mexico had been dictated by slavery interests. They 
have been quoted thus at length because they have constituted, 
both from the point of fact and from the point of spirit, the 
popular interpretation of our policy toward Mexico down to 

A careful and impartial study of this policy will permit a 
quite different interpretation. In order to show that Jackson 
and Van Buren did not try to precipitate a war with Mexico 
over the claims for the purpose of acquiring new slave territory, 
it becomes necessary to consider briefly the questions which 
Adams declared had a mutual coincidence and coherence which 
made them perpetual commentaries upon each other. 

1 Speech, pp. 117-119 and 126-128. See also Memoirs. Vol. 11, pp. 348- 

2 Von Hoist — "The Constitutional and Political History of the United 
States." Vols. 2 and 3. Chapters on Mexican War, ■passim; William Jay — 
"A Review of the Causes and Consequences of the Mexican War," passim; 
A. A. Livermore — "The War with Mexico Reviewed," passim; and Schouler — 
"The History of the United States of America under the Constitution." 
Vols. 3 and 4, passim. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 23 

That Jackson zealously desired the acquisition of Texas, 
there can be no possible doubt. Six months after the beginning 
of his first administration, he directed Van Buren, Secretary of 
State, to instruct the American minister in Mexico to make an 
effort to settle the Texas boundary in such a way that United 
States would come into possession of Texas. ^ From this time 
on untU the close of his second administration, Jackson's interest 
in Texas never waned. But that he traitorously plotted because 
of his southern prejudice to bring about a situation which would 
result in the annexation of that province is a wholly different 
question and one which seems incapable of proof. 

Adam's charge that Jackson, with Houston as his agent, 
connived at the Texas Revolution appears to have been almost 
wholly unfounded. It is impossible here to give the evidence 
which disproves the accusation; and it is unnecessary, for it 
has already been worked out in an admirable and effective 
manner.^ When Adams made the charge against Jackson, he 
was in the very thickest of his fight over the right of petition; 
and it seems quite clear that he allowed his personal feelings 
to lead him into an unworthy use of purely circumstantial evi- 

Jackson's conduct with reference to Butler's mission cannot 
be justified, and yet it was not as bad as Adams made it out to 
have been. Jackson sent this dishonorable schemer to Mexico 
under instructions to purchase Texas and permitted him to 
remain there six years promulgating all sorts of projects to 
accomplish his purpose. And when he returned to Washington 
in 1835 to lay before the President his plan to secure Texas by 
bribing Santa Anna to the amount of a half-million dollars, 
Jackson not only did not recall him but sent him back to Mexico 
with new instructions to purchase along with Texas a large part 
of California.-' While it was Jackson's plain duty to have 
recalled Butler, nevertheless he countenanced no one of the 
latter's corrupt schemes, but condemned them all. On Novem- 

1 House Documents, 2.5th Congress, 1st Session. No. 42, pp. 10-16. 

-Eugene C. Barker. '"President Jackson and the Texas Revolution." 
American Historical Review. Vol. 12, pp. 788-809. 

' For the complete letter, see MSS. Archives. Department of State. In- 
structions to agents in Mexico. Vol. 15, pp. 53-54. For whole correspon- 
dence, see House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, 
where extracts are given. 

24 Graduate School Publications. 

ber 27, 1833, he wrote Butler that while we wanted Texas, the 
treaty of cession must be obtained without any imputation of 
corruption on our part.^ When Butler wrote his letter of June 
17, 1835, laying his scheme before the President, to bribe Santa 
Anna to the extent of a half-million dollars for the sake of the 
cession, Jackson in his indorsement of the letter said, "Nothing 
will be countenanced by the executive to bring this government 
under the remotest imputation of being engaged in corruption 
or bribery. "2 Jackson deserves severe censure for employing 
a man hke Butler, but he should be given the credit for having 
thwarted and condemned every one of his dishonorable projects. 
The charge that Jackson sent Gaines to Nacogdoches in order 
to further his Texas schemes does not appear true. Gaines did 
have a passion for Texas, and he was indiscreet in expressing it.* 
He was also ready upon the slightest pretext to fight Mexico.* 
But while the man was indiscreet and while the policy of permitting 
him to enter Mexican territory was unwise since it was bound 
to increase hostility and multiply the chances for the violation 
of neutrality on our part, nevertheless there is no evidence 
that Jackson had any ulterior designs in employing him. On 
the contrary, when the correspondence upon which Jackson 
based his conduct is carefully studied, there appear good reasons 
for his action. The reports in regard to the movements of 
Indians made such action seem necessary.^ Gaines was repeat- 
edly cautioned to do nothing that might be interpreted as hostile 
to Mexico.*^ Jackson opposed Gaines's pohcy of increasing 
the forces in the southwest and countermanded his call upon 
the Governor of Tennessee for militia, saying that, "To sanction 
that requisition for the reasons which accompany it, would 
warrant the belief that it was done to aid Texas, and not from 
a desire to prevent an infringement of our territorial or national 

^ Jackson MSS. Library of Congress. 

2 MS Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in Mexico. 
Vol. 6. 

3 House Documents, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 256, pp. 42-43. 
^ House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 


* House Documents, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 12, No. 351, pp. 
771-782 and 792-818. 

* House Documents, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 256, pp. 
43-44, 54-55. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 25 

rights."^ In his annual message of December, 1836, Jackson 
was frank enough to say that "the sufficiency of the causes 
assigned for the advance of our troops by the commanding 
general had been seriously doubted by me." ^ In view of these 
fact^. Garrison's interpretation of the event seems just; namely, 
had it not been for the strained relations between the United 
States and Mexico the incident would have passed without 

Before taking up the charge that Jackson sent Ellis to Mexico, 
because of his slavery prochvitieS; to precipitate a war over 
the claims in order to get Texas, it is necessary to state briefly 
the history of the Texas question in this country from the open- 
ing to the close of the year, 1836. During the closing weeks of 
the session extending from December, 1835, to July, 1836, 
both tjie questions of recognizing and annexing Texas were 
before Congress. After considerable discussion, both houses 
resolved in July, "That the independence of Texas ought to 
be acknowledged by the United States whenever satisfactory 
information shall be received that it has in successful operation 
a civil Government, capable of performing the duties and ful- 
filhng the obligations of an independent Power." The Senate 
adopted this unanimously, and the House passed it by a vote 
of one hundred and twenty-eight to twenty. These votes 
show that the measure could hardly have been sectional. The 
debate shows the same. Some southern members were ready 
at once to recognize Texas and receive her into the Union, 
notably Calhoun and Preston of South Carolina and Walker 
of Mississippi. Calhoun boldly asserted that he desired these 
events because they would benefit the South. At the same 
time, other members from the slavery states opposed the meas- 
ures; for example, Porter of Louisiana, Brown and Magnum 
of North Carolina, and King of Alabama.^ Outside of Congress, 
the sentiment on the question could not be considered as one 
strongly infiuenced by the slavery problem. In June, 1836, 
the legislature of Connecticut sent a memorial to Congress 

1 Senate Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 60-61. 

2 Ibid., p. 4. 

3 "Westward Extension," pp. 88-89. 

^ For the action of Congress, see Debates in Congress, 24th Congress, Ist 
Session. Vol. 12, pp. 1286-1287, 1414-1426, 1455-1457, 1525-1537, 1759- 
1763, 1846-1847, 1915-1928 and 4621-4622. 

26 Graduate School Publications. 

recommending the recognition of Texas; ^ and, later in the same 
year, Governor McDuffie of South Carohna sent a message 
to the state legislature taking a decided stand against it. The 
message also pronounced any attempts at annexation as unwise 
and unjust since they would be violations of neutraltiy and 
degrading to the national honor. The Senate of the state coin- 
cided with the governor's opinions.^ 

In accordance with the resolution of Congress, Jackson sent 
an agent to Texas to investigate political conditions there. On 
the basis of reports received from this agent,^ Jackson prepared 
a message to Congress which he submitted December 22, 1836. 
This message declared that it had been the consistent pohcy 
of the United States not to recognize a new government until 
it had demonstrated its ability to protect itself. In view of 
the threatened invasion of Texas by Mexico, this country could 
not, therefore, recognize the new repubhc. We should wait 
until some foreign power had done this or until there was no 
doubt about Texas's ability to maintain her independence. 
The message pointed out that the great desire that existed in this 
country for Texa,s made the question extremiely delicate and 
one which forced upon us considerations of the gravest character.* 

At the very time Jackson submitted this message to Congress, 
Ellis was demanding his passports in Mexico. According to 
the President's enemies, this "fanatical slavocrat, who had the 
acquisition of Texas at heart," had been chosen for the avowed 
purpose of precipitating a war over the claims in order that 
new territory might be acquired for slavery interests.^ It is 
impossible to see any reason in this accusation. If it had been 
true, Jackson's message against the acknowledgment of Texas 
would have meant that he chose to throw that province back 
into the hands of Mexico so that he might win it through a 
war as indemnity for claims. This is inconceivable. Had 
Jackson made up his mind to get Texas, it certainly would have 
been easier for him to recognize the independence of that republic 
and induce Congress to annex it than it would have been to go 
to war over the claims in order to secure it as indemnity. 

1 Debates in Congress, 24th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 12, pp. 1762-1763. 

2 Niles' Register. Vol. 51, pp. 229-230, 242 and 277. 

3 Senate Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 20. 
* Ibid., pp. 1-4. 

« See Von Hoist. Vol. 2, p. 592, and Jay, p. 37. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 27 

But evidence exists which shows that Jackson was sincere 
when he wrote the message against the acknowledgment of 
Texas. Six weeks after he submitted it, a situation had arisen 
which caused him to change his mind. Texas had threatened 
to seek recognition in England and pay for it by valuable com- 
mercial concessions. A letter fell into Jackson's hands written 
by Colonel Austin which stated this fact and remarked "that 
if the United States does not now accept the proposition it may he 
forever lost to her.'' Jackson immediately enclosed this letter 
in a note to Howard, Chairman of the House Committee on 
Foreign Relations; and, after expressing his belief in the truth 
of its statements, asked for a private interview. "^ The President 
now evidently desired the recognition of Texas; and when the 
Senate did acknowledge her independence on March 1, 1837, 
Walker took the hberty to enclose the resolution and vote in a 
note to Jackson saying that he knew it would give him pleasure 
to hear of it.^ 

Jackson's policy with reference to Texas does not appear to 
have had much influence upon his policy with reference to the 
claims. Adams thought the two were simply phases of one 
grand scheme to annex more slave territory. Jackson's conduct 
on the Texas question seems always to have been the result 
of a struggle between two powerful motives: one was a desire 
for Texas and the other a desire to keep untarnished the national 
honor of his country. He was indiscreet in his choice of agents 
and he permitted them to do unwise things, but there is no 
evidence that he ever gave his assent to a single corrupt act 
for the sake of getting Texas. That he was acting in conjunc- 
tion with an organized slavery interest cannot be maintained. 
Down to the close of his second administration, neither the 
sentiment in Congress nor in the country will justify the belief 
that there was a slave-state and a free-state line up on the Texas 
question. It is true that the South was more interested in it ; but it 
does not appear that this was a consciously organized one. 
The motives for Jackson's so-called war message of February 
6, 1837, need not be sought in the Texas affair; they were in 
the man himself.^ Mexico had procrastinated with reference 

1 Jackson MSS. Library of Congress. Letter dated February 2, 1837. 
^Ibid., Letter dated March 1, 1837. 

3 See Garrison, "Westward Extension," p. 191. Also see Rives. Vol. 1 
pp. 432-433. 

28 Groduate School Pnhlicaiions. 

to the claims and she had approved Gorostiza's conduct which 
Jackson thought contemptible. Jackson hated weak measures 
and so he did with Mexico as he had done with France a few 
years before, recommended one more chance to settle complaints 
and after that war. 

Van Buren's policy was essentially the same as Jackson's. 
It seems very probable that he helped Jackson prepare his 
message of December 22, 1836, on the recognition of Texas. ^ 
It is certain that he approved of Jackson's message of February 
6. 1837. Greenhow's mission in the summer of 1837 was still 
a part of Jackson's measures. By this time the annexation 
question had become an important one. Hunt, the Texas 
minister in Washington, had made, on August 4, formal pro- 
posals for joining Texas to the Union. ^ On August 25, Forsj'th 
flatly refused the overture, not even consenting to reserve it 
for future consideration.^ The question came up in Congress 
during the session from December, 1837, to July, 1838, and was 
soon merged into the struggle over the right of petition.^ There 
■was now a slave-state and free-state line up on the question. 
It was in the midst of this fight that Adams divulged the great 
conspiracy that had been in process against INIexico for nearly 
a decade. But, outside of the fact that Van Buren's adminis- 
tration allowed Mexico only one week to give satisfaction for 
fifty-seven claims, there is not the slightest evidence that any- 
thing else unjust or unfair to Mexico was done. The President 
was certainly not scheming for Texas since his refusal of it was 
absolutely positive. The manner in which he placed the matter 
before Congress in his annual message of December, 1837, 
was cautious and dignified. 

In the light of these facts, the following conclusions appear 
true: "Jackson's and Van Buren's attitude toward Texan 

' Among the Van Buren MSS in Librarj' of Congress exists the following 
note nnaddressed and undated: "The great and delicate question of , shall 
we acknowledge the independence of Texas, — is the evidence contained in 
the report of our confidential agent, Mr. MoflFet, sufficient to show that Texas 
hajB a de facto Gov't and the means to support it — See the resolutions of Con- 
gress & compare the facts contained in the report with it — report on which 
the Independence of South America was acknowledged." 

2 House Dociunents, 25th Congress, 1st Session. No. 40, pp. 2-11. 

= Ihid., pp. 11-13. 

* Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 6. 

3nmefS3xfitm. ff^A 'switiotia. pmieax. and 'o»mfip^ in \^is^ ^rnK^i- 

pies- Than xiife ^ne ^drtmad jtiwiri ^ 

of 'ilaima "" --"'-» 'iflca r. — - -—-- _ ^__ ^^ 

B»ir=^ "if '>r h"^' -^35. 

r ' . as a ^loaa lor var by -s^iich. 

^.. - ^ .. zha reverse may be -caEed 

mrh- The- a»5e?i - - -he- T~njT*>^ '*rar*^ tai v^ftmri: 

wiier=: .1 - - ,. ,.- _; _.. ,_ _.^.:.„-, , ,- 

made -v-JniiGiii: anT ^asDidott : ' - 

The Claims Referred to Arbitration — 1838-1842 

On May 20, 1837, the President of Mexico proclaimed the 
decree of the General Congress offering to submit the claims to 
arbitration. The first of its two articles simply made the propo- 
sal; but the second added that "The Government is also author- 
ized, in case the United States should deny the satisfaction which 
we should ask on our part, or delay it beyond the time which 
shall be fixed conformably with treaty, or should continue the 
open aggressions already committed, to close the ports to the trade 
of that nation; to prohibit the introduction and use of its manu- 
factures; to establish a period for the consumption or exportation 
of those already on hand; and to take all measures required for 
the purpose, and for the safety of the repubhc." ^ This decree 
was evidently intended to furnish an answer to Jackson's war- 
like message of February 6. 

It was seven months before a notice of this action of the Mexi- 
can Congress was given to the United States, notwithstanding 
the fact that there were numerous events occurring which ought 
to have called it forth. Forsyth's last demand for satisfaction, 
made through Greenhow in the summer of 1837, was answered 
by the Mexican government on July 29, but with no mention of 
the offer of arbitration. In October, Martinez, the new Mexican 
minister, reached Washington and was acknowledged; but in 
his correspondence with this government during the month of 
November, he never mentioned the decree. Forsyth's war-like 
report of December 2 and Van Buren's annual message of a few 
days later both appeared and failed to call forth a notice of the 
proposal. It was December 22 before it was presented to this 
government; and then four months pass by before anything is 
heard of it again. On April 7, 1838, Martinez wrote Forsyth 
that the President of Mexico was convinced that arbitration was 
the most effectual method of settling the difficulties. Two weeks 
later Forsyth agreed to accept the offer. On April 30, Martinez 
suggested the King of Prussia as umpire ; and on May 10 Forsyth 

1 House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056. 


Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 31 

assented. But as yet neither government had empowered its 
agents to sign an agreement. This was done so that by the first 
of September a convention was under preparation.^ 

This convention was signed on September 10, 1838. It pro- 
vided that all the claims of citizens of the United States upon 
the Mexican government, for which interposition had been 
solicited up to the time of the signing of the convention, should 
be referred to a commission consisting of four members, each 
government appointing two. The board was to meet in Washing- 
ton three months after the exchange of ratifications and was to 
have eighteen months in which to complete its work. Each 
government agreed to furnish all necessary documents in its 
possession. When the claims were adjusted and awards made, 
Mexico was to be allowed the privilege of issuing certificates 
of debt in case she did not have the money with which to pay. 
In the event that the commissioners disagreed upon any claim, 
they were to draw up, jointly or severally, a report stating in 
detail the points on which they differed and the grounds for their 
respective opinions; and such reports were to be sent, with the 
documents connected with them, to an umpire appointed by the 
King of Prussia. His decision was to be final; and conse- 
quently Mexico was to be exonerated from all claims that were re- 
jected. Each government agreed to bear half of the contingent 
expenses of the commission. Ratifications were to be exchanged 
within five months.^ 

On the clay that the convention was signed Martinez wrote 
Forsyth asking him certain specific questions; whether the Presi- 
dent refused to submit to arbitration six of the claims; whether 
the government of the United States demanded that Mexico 
withdraw her approval of Gorostiza's conduct in reference to the 
pamphlet; and whether this country would abstain from sending 
to Mexico the diplomatic agent already appointed while these 
complaints remained unsatisfied.^ Forsyth answered three days 
later. He said that his government refused to permit eight of 
the claims to go before the board since they were of such a nature 
that they directly affected the national character. He also de- 
clared that Gorostiza's offense would have to be adjusted before 

1 House Reports, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 1056. 

2 House Documents, 25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 6, No. 252, pp. 27-32. 
^Ibid., pp. 15-16. 

32 Graduate School Publications. 

the minister would be commissioned to Mexico.^ Martinez 
assented to these conditions; Gorostiza's conduct was disavowed; 
and, on February 15, 1839, ElHs received his commission as 
minister to Mexico.^ Full diplomatic relations between the two 
countries were again restored. 

The progress of the arbitration measure, which now seemed 
so promising, was soon to be completely frustrated for the time 
being by another event. Mexico failed to ratify the convention 
within the period set, assigning as her reasons the want of time 
and the fact that she had understood that the King of Prussia 
refused to act as arbitrator.^ Considerable question now arose 
in regard to Mexico's good faith. Jones, one of the consuls in 
Mexico, declared that the matter of ratification was purposely 
delayed so that the notice of rejection would not reach this coun- 
try until after the adjournment of Congress.^ About the last 
of February, 1839, the House called for documents on the Mexi- 
can relations; and, in reply. Van Buren sent the convention of 
September 10, 1838, and the correspondence connected with it. 
On March 2, 1839, the Committee on Foreign Relations made a 
report, resolving that Mexico had not assigned sufficient reasons 
for the failure to ratify, that our minister in Mexico ought to 
be instructed to urge a speedy and definite settlement of the 
claims, and that the House would sustain the executive in any 
measures he deemed necessary in case the demand were refused 
or unreasonably delayed.^ 

Although Van Buren was not entirely satisfied with the course 
pursued by Mexico, he accepted her explanation in regard to the 
failure to ratify the convention; and, as he himself said, cheerfully 
consented to conclude a new one.^ Forsyth and Martinez were 
given by their respective governments power to conclude a new 
agreement; and on April 11, 1839, they succeeded in doing so. 
This differed from that of a year before only in minor detail. 
In order to avoid the things which had presumably caused the 

1 Ibid., pp. 16-17, 13-14 and 18. 

^Ibid., pp. 17-18 and 26. 

3 House Documents, 25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 6, No. 252, pp. 21-22. 

'Ibid., p. 22. 

5 Congressional Globe, 25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 7. House Reports, 
25th Congress, 3d Session. Vol. 2, No. 321. 

8 Annual Message, December 2, 1839. House Documents, 26th Congress, 
1st Session. Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 6. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 33 

failure of the earlier convention, the latter provided that ratifi- 
cations might be exchanged at any time within one year and that, 
if the King of Prussia refused to appoint an umpire, the Queen 
of England or the King of Netherlands might do so. The new- 
convention was duly ratified and, on April 8, 1840, the President 
proclaimed it in effect.'^ 

On June 12, 1840, Congress passed an act to carry it into 
execution. The salary of each commissioner was fixed at three 
thousand dollars a year and that of their secretary at two thou- 
sand a year. The President was given authority to provide for 
all the contingent expenses of the commission falling on this 
government and the free use of the mails was extended to it for 
all its official business. The members of the board were, at the 
close of their work, to make a report to the Secretary of State 
and deposit their records with him. It also stipulated the method 
of distributing the awards; and, in apparent non-conformity 
with the convention, made it impossible for any claimant to get 
his money until the close of the board's work.- 

The President of the United States appointed W. L. Marcy 
and John Rowan as commissioners; and the President of Mexico 
selected Pedro F. del Castillo and D. Joaquin Velazquez de Leon. 
Baron Roenne, the Prussian minister in Washington, was made 
umpire. In the meantime, Forsyth instructed Ellis (May 3, 
1839) to press the settlement of the eight claims that this country 
refused to submit to arbitration. The way now seemed clear 
for an adjustment of all complaints. 

The board held its first session August 17, 1840, and from this 
time until August 25 the proceedings of each day were taken up 
with a discussion over the vahdity of the oaths of the Mexican 
commissioners. The convention had not provided the method 
of taking them, and the Mexican government had left the ques- 
tion open for the mutual consent of both parties. The American 
commissioners had taken theirs before the proper authorities. 

1 House Documents, 26th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 4, No. 190. 

2 House Reports, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 1096. The 
last provision caused considerable trouble. In the summer of 1841, Coxe, 
Causten, and Key memoriahzed Congress on behalf of the claimants to let 
them have their money as soon as the awards were made. Webster, Buchanan, 
and the Secretary of the Treasury thought their demand just. See Executive 
Documents and Reports of Committees, 27th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 
10, pp. 254, 258, 273, 312, and 399. 


34 Graduate School Publications. 

The Mexican commissioners appeared in Washington without 
certificates of oath; and being unwiUing to submit themselves 
to an American officer, they administered their oaths to one 
another and then had their secretary take his before them. 
Certificates to this effect were presented to the board. The 
American members questioned the validity of this, holding 
"that an oath to be valid must be administered by a public 
functionary duly authorized to perform that act." They main- 
tained that this power did not reside in a minister unless given 
by special delegation; and more than this, the commissioners 
were appointed to act jointly while the administering of an oath 
was a several act. This they considered a very important ques- 
tion since the whole validity of the work of the commission 
might rest upon it. The Mexican commissioners would not 
concede to the suggestion that they take their oaths before an 
American officer, since they came in a twofold capacity — as com- 
missioners and as plenipotentiaries — and as such they enjoyed 
the immunities which international law allowed them. They 
declared that their government had given them special instruc- 
tions to settle the question of oaths, and that this delegation of 
power was in strict accordance with the constitutional law of 
their country. To settle the matter and remove all doubt they 
agreed to send their certificates to their government and have 
them ratified. The American commissioners accepted this prop- 
osition, and the board was duly organized on August 25, 1840.^ 
From this time until October 7 the board discussed rul s of 
procedure. On August 31, the American commissioners sub- 
mitted for adoption a project of eight rules. The most impor- 
tant of these provided that the board should sit daily from ten in 
the morning until three in the afternoon; that the form of pro- 
cedure should be judicial and not of a forensic or diplomatic 
character; that claimants or their agents should be permitted 
when requested to present to the board the facts and documents 
connected with their cases; and that the position of the members 
of the board should be selected with an eye to convenience and 
"without indicating inequality." ^ Two of these proposed rules 
received heated discussion; the one relating to the nature of the 

1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 93-102. 

2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320 pp. 104- 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 35 

board and the other concerning the appearance of the claimants 
or their agents before it. 

The American commissioners took the ground that the board 
was a judicial and not a diplomatic body. They argued that 
this point ought to be determined in order that the parties con- 
cerned might understand one another and harmonize in their 
action and also that the claimants might know in what manner 
to address the commission. They held that the convention 
evidently intended the board to be a tribunal since, in article 
one, it prescribed the oath to be that of examining and deciding 
the claims impartially, and, in article four, it enjoined upon the 
commissioners the duty of adjusting the complaints according 
to the principles of justice, the law of nations, and the stipulations 
of the treaty of amity. Such duties as these were neither legis- 
lative nor executive, and, therefore, they had to be judicial. 
Diplomacy had ceased when the convention was signed; the very 
aim of the commission was to supersede further diplomacy. The 
plenipotentiary powers of the Mexican commissioners were in 
excess of the aim of the treaty, and consequently had nothing 
to do with the duties of the board. The Mexican commissioners 
took the position that the board was a diplomatic body. They 
maintained that it was unnecessary to determine the nature of 
the commission since the convention had done that. It said 
nothing about a tribunal, but always spoke of a board; it said 
nothing about judging, but always used the word adjusting. 
This convention was a public treaty, the parties to it were sover- 
eign, "and as such, recognize no earthly tribunal that possesses 
the right of judging their actions, since nations, by the fact of 
their being in the exercise of their independence and sovereignty, 
cannot constitute themselves into judges, the one of the other." The 
American commissioners gave up the discussion as useless, de- 
claring that it had dwindled down into a question of name rather 
than of nature.^ 

1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 107- 
157 See also pp. 212-215. Webster took side with American commissioners. 
The Mexican commissioners wrote him asking about the jurisdiction of the 
board with reference to certain claims. On January 21, 1842, he said in 
reply: "The mixed commission . . . has always been considered by this 
Government essentially a judicial tribunal, with independent attributes and 
powers in regard to its pecuhar functions. . . . The Government of the 
Mexican republic has seen fit to confer the rank and title of plenipotentiary 
upon its commissioners, and its right to do so is admitted; but it is considered 
that this does not alter the nature of their fvmctions." Ibid., pp. 185-186. 

36 Graduate School Publications. 

In regard to the access of the claimants to the board, the 
American commissioners held that those who had claims had 
the right to present their cases either in person or through agents, 
providing they did so in both the Spanish and Enghsh languages. 
They maintained that the two parties before the board were 
not the nations. The United States government had interposed 
in behalf of its citizens having claims only so far as to co-operate 
in erecting a tribunal or board for adjusting them, but had not 
taken upon itself the labor of presenting their cases. The 
parties in interest were the litigants, the claimants were the 
plaintiff, the State of Mexico the defendant, and the board the 
judge. The inherent right of man to be heard before a court 
either by parol or in writing was a principle so deeply set in the 
minds of Americans that it could not be conceded. The Mexi- 
can commissioners, on the contrary, insisted that the two nations 
were the parties before the board. The United States govern- 
ment had, therefore, assumed the cases of its citizens having 
claims. They held that the convention was plain on this point 
since it had stipulated that all papers called for must be sent 
to the Department of State at Washington from whence the 
board would secure them. More than this, it would be highly 
injurious to the claimants themselves to permit them to appear 
before the commission since it would protract the discussions 
and delay adjustment.^ 

The whole subject of discussion involved in the adoption of 
rules was a nice one, but it was altogether too scholastic and too 
far removed from the plain and practical objects of the commis- 
sion. As Webster said, the discussion had been over "very 
unimportant and even idle formalities." ^ On October 5, the 
board did agree on five rules, but no one of them covered any 
of the points that had been under discussion. They all related 
to comparatively insignificant matters.^ 

The board adjourned on October 7 to give the secretaries 
time to list the claims and arrange the documents connected 
with them. This took until December 21, and on this day 

1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 
107-157. Also pp. 215-220. 

2 Works (National Edition). Vol. 18, pp. 136-138. 

3 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 37 

the sessions were again resumed.^ The next day the question 
of access came up again. The counsel for a claimant asked 
to present a case before the board. A vote was taken and 
resulted in a tie. The Mexican commissioners now offered the 
following resolution for adoption: "That whatever written ex- 
planations, documents, or petitions, the claimants or their agents 
may desire to present to the board in support of the justice of 
the claims which are submitted to its investigation, will be re- 
ceived and considered, coming to the board through the Depart- 
ment of State." ^ The American commissioners gave way and 
voted for this assigning as their reason the fact that the conven- 
tion would have been rendered abortive since their Mexican 
colleagues would have never given in on the point.^ On Decem- 
ber 23, another rule was adopted making the claimants submit 
all their papers in both the Spanish and English languages.* The 
board investigated the first claim on December 28. Four months 
had been consumed in getting ready. 

During the next year, 1841, the first five months were con- 
sumed in the disposition of twelve claims, upon eleven of which 
the commissioners disagreed and appealed to the umpire.^ The 
claimants now became so dilatory in presenting their cases that 
the board was compelled to notify them through the public 
prints to hasten the preparation of their documents. The notice 
said that while more than half the time allowed the commission 
had expired, not one-half the claims which it had been organized 
to adjust had been presented.^ Rowan resigned August 9, and 
three days later the board adjourned until his place was filled. 
President Tyler appointed H. M. Brackenridge to the vacancy 
August 23, but it was September 20 before the sessions were 

In consequence of so many delays, the greater part of the 
work of the board was done in the last few weeks and even in 
the last few days of its sessions. A letter and report from the 
umpire to the commission on the last day of its meeting, Feb- 

1 Ibid., p. 157. 3 Ibid., p. 159. 

2 Ibid., pp. 158-159. " Ibid., p. 159. 
^Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 1, No. 61. 

* Notice quoted by Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, p. 1234. 
Notice dated June 16, 1841. 

^ Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, pp. 1235-1236. 

38 Graduate School Publications. 

ruary 25, 1842, show that twelve claims were submitted to him 
in January, 1842, seventeen in the first fifteen days of February, 
and eighteen more from February 19 to 24, inclusive. Forty- 
seven claims were, therefore, submitted to him in the last fifty- 
two days of the board's sessions. The eighteen submitted to 
him after February 19 were returned without decision because 
of a want of time.^ According to a letter which the Mexican 
commissioners sent to Webster on March 18, 1842, eighty-four 
claims in all were presented to the commission.^ If this be cor- 
rect, then over half the claims which the board investigated were 
disposed of in the last two months of its sessions. 

The actual results of the board's work may be gotten from 
the following summary: 

1. Amount of claims decided by the board without reference 

to the umpire. 

a. Amount claimed $595,462.75 

b. Amount allowed $439,393.82 

2. Rejected on their merits at the board. 

a. Amount claimed $51,492 . 25 

3. Decided by the board not to be within the convention. 

a. Amount claimed $9,278 . 26 

4. Claims on which the board differed, which were reported to 

the umpire for decision, and on which allowance was made. 

a. Amount claimed $5,844,260.44 

b. Allowed by American commissioners $2,334,477 . 44 

c. Allowed by Mexican commissioners . . . $191,012 . 94 

d. Allowed by umpire $1,586,745.86 

5. Rejected by the umpire on their merits. 

a. Amount claimed $59,967 . 40 

b. Allowed by American $57,754 . 42 

6. Decided by the umpire not to be within the cognizance of the 


a. Amount claimed $88,351 .78 

b. Allowed by American commissioners. .$86,080.01 

7. Returned by the umpire undecided. 

a. Amount claimed $1,864,939.56 

b. Allowed by American commissioners . $928,627 . 88 

8. Cases submitted too late to be considered by the board. 

a. Amount claimed $3,336,837.05 

1 Senate Documents, 27th Congre33, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 77-79. 
^lUd., pp. 201-204. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 39 

9. Recapitulation. 

a. Total amount of claims presented $11,850,589.49 

b. Total amount of claims undecided. .$5,201,776.61 

c. Total amount of awards $2,026,139. 68^ 

On February 26, the Mexican commissioners wrote Webster 
that they had tried, on the last day of the board's session, to 
have a minute adopted to the effect that their government had 
done all in its power to fulfill every duty contracted by it in the 
convention. They desired this minute in order that the respon- 
sibility for any failure on the part of the commission might rest 
on those who had occasioned it. They severely criticised the 
conduct of the claimants, saying that they had not, in spite of 
the multiplied notices, presented their claims in due time and 
in complete form. They had been negligent throughout the 
greater part of the period of the board's existence and had become 
active during only the last few days of its sessions. Here, they 
thought, lay the causes for any failure that might be attributed 
to the commission.^ 

This letter came into the possession of the American commis- 
sioners through Webster; and on March 2 they wrote him a 
reply to the charges made by their colleagues. Wholly different 
causes were assigned for the failure of the commission. The 
first four months of its sessions had been wasted in a fruitless 
discussion of rules for procedure. Many of the cases presented 
in time for action had been postponed until the close of the ses- 
sion because the documents connected with them had to be 
secured from Mexico. Others of these cases were refused con- 
sideration by the Mexican commissioners for a long time on the 
ground that they were not certain that the board had jurisdic- 
tion over them. " In at least seven-eighths of the cases submitted 
to the commissioners, they differed upon the essential merits of 
them, and this contrariety of opinion involved the necessity of 
consuming much of their time in preparing elaborate reports to 
the umpire." The delay of the claimants to present their cases 
was excused on the ground that for a long time they had no rules 

1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320. Or 
House Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 291. The above 
figures represent the totals, that is, principal and interest. 

2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 195- 

40 Graduate School Puhlicaiions. 

to guide them and on the ground that the great differences be- 
tween the commissioners had led to the belief that the conven- 
tion would not be carried into effect. More than this, the 
indirect and circuitous manner that was devised for the presenta- 
tion of their cases had discouraged them.^ 

Another point of controversy arose over the disposition to be 
made of the documents in possession of the board. On Feb- 
ruary 26, 1842, the American commissioners notified Webster 
that the Mexican commissioners would not consent to any regu- 
lation in regard to the disposal of the documents, and had plan- 
ned to take part of them to Mexico.- Webster informed them 
on March 17, that, according to the act of June 12, 1840, the 
documents or copies of them should be left with the Department 
of State at Washington.^ The next day the Mexican commis- 
sioners replied that they could not consent to give up all their 
papers; that those which were records of the Mexican courts 
must be kept; and that to give them up would be to defraud their 
government of its right to know what had been done.* The 
question was dropped, but some of the documents were carried 
away by the Mexican commissioners. 

According to the act of June 12, 1840, the American commis- 
sioners prepared a long and careful report to the Secretary of 
State, which was submitted April 23, 1842. In most respects 
it was an elaboration of the points contained in their letter to 
Webster on March 2. It, however, admitted that considerable 
delay had been occasioned by the failure of the claimants to 
present their cases in time. It emphasized the fact that the 
preparation of reports to the umpire had constituted a large 
part of the board's work, the American commissioners alone 
having sent him fifteen hundred closely written pages. Mexico's 
conduct in withholding documents which had been called for 
by the board was severely criticised. One description con- 
tained in the report was especially illuminating. "The rapid 
succession of chieftains," it said, "and the revolution of power 
in that country, made it exceedingly difficult in some instances 
to determine whether the wrongdoers were the functionaries 
of the existing power, rebels against that power, revolutionists, 

1 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 195- 
2 /bid., pp. 194-195. 3 7Wd., pp. 197-198. " /6id., pp. 201-204. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 41 

while the country was in a state of anarchy, or lawless depreda- 
tors assuming to be clothed with authority, merely to facilitate 
the perpetration of wrong. The questions which arose required 
the consideration and application of the laws of nations, the 
principles of the commercial code, the discussion of the municipal 
laws of Mexico, and the revision of the acts of her domestic 
tribunals. On the subject of the municipal laws, the greatest 
difficulties were experienced. The actual legislation of Mexico 
as a sovereign power, was exceedingly imperfect. It did not 
afford a system of laws. What ordinances of Spain, or decrees 
of the code of the Indies, were in force in Mexico after its emanci- 
pation, was not explicitly declared by any act brought to the 
notice of the board. The decisions of the tribunals tended rather 
to confuse than to clear up this matter. The unsettled state of 
things in Mexico was as much evinced by the condition of her 
judicial establishments, as by anything else. The shiftings of 
political power caused a like instability in her tribunals; their 
records were voluminous and obscure; and it was sometimes 
exceedingly difficult to ascertain the true state of facts, even as 
they appeared before the courts, or the distinct principles of 
law upon which these courts placed their adjudication." This 
report constitutes the only authoritative statement of the prob- 
lems which the commission faced; and, in spite of the fact that 
it takes the American point of view, it must be conceded that 
it seems fair and reasonable.^ 

Like the other subjects of discussions between United States 
and Mexico prior to the Mexican War, the convention and the 
commission under it have been subjected to much bitter criticism. 
The commissioners, especially those of the Mexican govern- 
ment, have been abused; the umpire has been severely censured; 
and the claims which the board investigated have been ridiculed. 

The claimants repeatedly attacked all the commissioners; ^ 
the House Committee on Foreign Relations pronounced the 
course pursued by the Mexican commissioners as one "of most 
questionable validity";^ and Webster called it in some respects 
very extraordinary, saying that "Spanish punctilio was run out 

1 Report given in Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, 
No. 320, pp. 208-255. 

2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 320, pp. 1-89. 

3 House Reports, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 1096, p. 22. 

42 Graduate School Publications. 

to its extremest." ^ Perhaps the commissioners do deserve some 
censure, since they wasted much time over fooUsh discussions 
and disagreed in toto on most of the claims. Nevertheless, their 
failure to adjust the complaints does not lie so much in this as 
in the dilatory conduct of the claimants and in the almost in- 
surmountable difficulties which the investigation afforded. The 
minutes of the board and the reports of its findings both bear 
throughout marks of an earnest desire on the part of its members 
to do their duty. 

The claimants censured the umpire so severely that President 
Tyler had to vindicate him in a message to Congress.- So far 
as Baron Roenne's conduct was concerned, nobody had any 
right to judge since he corresponded with no one except his own 
government regarding the reasons which led him to make his 
respective decisions. This correspondence was secret and has 
always remained so. Twice our government has tried to secure 
it from the Prussian archives, but without success.^ 

There has been no end to the criticism and ridicule that has 
been heaped upon the claims themselves.* No doubt much of 
it has been just. Yet it must be conceded that their validity 
was submitted to the best known test, arbitration, which re- 
sulted in a plain verdict that they were not wholly bad. The 
commissioners and umpire rendered a definite decision on claims 
amounting to $6,648,812.88. Of this amount they rejected on 
the basis of merits only $111,459.65, and on the remainder, they 
rendered awards amounting to $2,026,139.68. Nearly one third 
of the amount claimed was, therefore, considered valid; and, as 
claims usually go, this was not a bad showing. No opinion, of 
course, can be given on the claims left undecided or submitted 
too late for investigation. So far as the individual claims were 
concerned, the reports of the board and umpire show that they 
were mostly worthy. Only eight of them were rejected on merit 
and ten on the ground of jurisdiction. Subtracting these eight- 
een from the whole number decided, which was fifty-four, leaves 

1 Works (National Edition). Vol. 18, pp. 136-138. 

2 Senate Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 412. 
' Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, pp. 1238-1240. 

* For example, see Von HoLst. Vol. 2, pp. 60-5-606 and Schouler (Revised 
Edition). Vol. 4, p. 445. 

Claims as a Cavsc of the Mexican War. 43 

thirty-six that were at least in part good.^ In view of tiiese facts, 
it is entirely unfair to ridicule or condemn the claims as a whole. 

There is other criticism of the convention and commission 
however, which has greater significance. In December, 1840, 
Adams said, "The convention itself and all the proceedings of 
the commissioners are of so very extraordinary a character that 
I cannot resist a very strong suspicion that it was intended by 
the Van Buren administration, not to obtain indemnification for 
citizens of the United States upon Mexico, but to keep open the 
sore and breed a war with Mexico, as machinery for the annexa- 
tion of Texas to the United States. There is not a step in the 
whole series of transactions which has a tendenc}^ to the satis- 
faction or even to the adjustment of the claims. The convention 
itself is a mockery, the commission under it an imposture." ^ A 
year and a half later, after Tyler had become President, he reit- 
erated this charge.^ Linn of New York made a speech in the 
House on April 13, 1842, in which he stated exactly the same 
thought. He said the United States would never have tobrated 
the fooHsh procedure of the Mexican commissioners, nor have 
allowed the board to continue, had it not been for a desire to get 
Texas.'* The same idea is implied in the following quotation 
from Jay: "Every man who had been in Mexico for the last 
twenty years, and could manufacture a wrong, was virtually 
invited to come forward and try his luck. There is also strong 
reason to believe that, when at the end of the first nine months 
all cases ready had been heard, it was found that the result would 
be so insignificant as to cast contempt and ridicule upon the 
Cabinet; and that, therefore, great efforts were made to induce 
reckless speculators and adventurers to come forward with claims 
which would at least swell the unliquidated claims, and furnish 
ground for continued and irritating complaint." ^ 

These accusations usher in a new period in the history of the 
relations between United States and Mexico. The closing 
months of the commission witnessed the revival of the desire 

1 Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2, p. 1244. 

2 Memoirs. Vol. 11, p. 43. December 24, 1840. 
^Ibid., p. 209. July 15, 1842. 

* Congressional Globe, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Appendix, pp. 513- 
' Jay, pp. 71-72. 

44 Graduate School Publications. 

on the part of the administration in this country to secure Texas; 
and the old enemies of annexation were immediately on the 
ground with their charges of conspiracy. To them, of course, 
the commission had been a farce; and all because the administra- 
tion had ulterior designs. They never cited a single item of 
evidence to justify their position so far as it related to the plan 
of arbitration. Nearly all of the claims with which the com- 
mission dealt were of long standing; and there is no evidence 
whatever which would show that any new one had been manu- 
factured for the purpose of embarrassing the board or under- 
mining it. In view of these facts, it seems but fair to discharge 
these accusations as unfounded. The other phase of the charges, 
relating to designs upon Texas, belongs to the history of succeed- 
ing events. 


Tyler and the Claims — 1842-1845 

The keynote of Tyler's administration was expansion. Henry 
A. Wise records an interview which he had with him shortly after 
he had succeeded to the Presidency and says that he referred to 
the annexation of Texas as the all-important measure of his 
administration.^ On October 11, 1841, he sounded Webster on 
the question. "I give you a hint," said the letter, "as to the. 
possibility of acquiring Texas by treaty. I verily believe it 
cou)d be done, could the North be reconciled to it; would any- 
thing throw so bright a lustre around us? It seems to me that the 
great interests of the North would be incalculably advanced 
by such an acquisition. Slavery — I know that is the objection, 
and it would be well founded if it did not already exist among 
us, but my belief is that a rigid enforcement of the laws against 
the slave trade, would in time make as many free states South 
as the acquisition of Texas would add slave states, and then 
the future (distant it might be) would present wonderful results."^ 
More than this, Tyler seems also to have had his eyes turned 
in the direction of California. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy 
and the President's intimate friend, recommended in his report 
of December 4, 1841, that the Pacific squadron be increased 
in view of the many interests that Americans had on that coast.' 
There seems to be good reasons for believing that Commodore 
Jones was sent to the Pacific in accordance with this recommen- 
dation. Lyon G. Tyler, the President's son and his most enthu- 
siastic biographer, does not deny that this may have been the 

The designs of the administration were soon to be made public 
and in the most exaggerated form. Early in 1842 Tyler recalled 
Ellis from Mexico and nominated Waddy Thompson of South 
Carolina to the mission. On April 13, 1842, Linn of New York 

1 Lyon G. Tyler. "The Letters and Times of the Tylers." Vol. 2, p. 254. 

2 Van Tyne. Letters of Daniel Webster, p. 240. 

^ Congressional Globe, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Appendix, p. 16. 
«Lyon G. Tyler. "The Letters and Times of the Tylers." Vol. 2, pp. 


46 Gradiuite School Publications. 

moved in the House that the appropriation for the Mexican post 
be withdrawn, assigning as his reason the fact that the aim of 
the mission was to secure Texas. This so thoroughly aroused 
Wise that on the next day he made a sensational speech, saying 
things that he perhaps had no right to say. He stated that Texas 
alone was too weak to resist the invasion that Mexico was then 
planning against her; but that if it were once understood that 
Texas aimed to conquest the rich states to the South, thousands 
of hardy men from the Mississippi valley would flock to her 
standards and soon plant the lone star banner on the Mexican 
Capitol. He declared that if he had five million dollars he him- 
self would attempt the work, secure a fourfold indemnity for 
the claims of American citizens, and "place California where all 
the great powers of Great Britain would never be able to reach it.' 

Adams immediately took up the question and raised again the 
cry of conspiracy. He thought Wise, being of the inner circle 
of Tyler's advisers, had babbled the whole project of the admin- 
istration. A war was going to follow and Mexico was to be 
plundered of a great part of her territory. The claims were to 
be a pretext for this war; and the whole movement was to be 
the work of slavery men for slavery interests.- On March 3, 1843, 
Adams, Giddings, and eleven other members of the House issued 
an address to the free states of the Union, quoting Wise's speech 
and other evidence regarding the conspiracy, and warning the 
North to be on its guard, since the slavery interests were going 
to accomplish their purpose even if it destroyed the Union. ^ 

Once more, it is the old question whether the United States 
was going to precipitate a war over the claims if it were found 
necessary to do so in order to get slave territory. Van Hoist, ^ 
Schoufer,^ and a host of others give almost complete credence 
to Adams' interpretation. The facts, however, will not com- 
pletely bear Adams out in his views. In part, he did divine the 
situation aright: he saw that Tyler was bound to extend the 
United States to the southwest. But his slavery antipathies led 
him to read things into the movement which do not seem to have 

1 Niles' Register. Vol. 64, p. 174. 

2 Memoirs. Vol. 11, pp. 209, 343 and 353. 

3 Niles' Register. Vol. 64, pp. 173, 175. 
< Van Hoist. Vol. 2, p. 627. 

« Schouler. Vol. 4 (Revised Edition), pp. 443-462. 

Chii?ns as a Cause of the Mexican War. 47 

been there. Neither the claims nor slavery played exactly the 
part that he thought they were going to play. 

Tyler's first plan for securing territory appears to have been 
one which very few at that time knew anything about. This 
was to trade the claims for Texas and California. Thompson's 
first despatch to Washington, dated April 29, 1842, went aside 
from the main subject with which it dealt to discuss the ques- 
tion of acquiring territory. "I believe," said the letter, "that 
this Government would cede to us Texas and the Californias, 
and I am thoroughly satisfied that it is all we shall ever get for 
the claims of our merchants on this country. As to Texas I 
regard it as of but little value compared with California — the 
richest, the most beautiful and the healthiest country in the 
world. ... In addition to which California is destined to 
be the granary of the Pacific. It is a country in which slavery 
is not necessary, and therefore, if that is made an objection, let 
there be another compromise. France and England both have 
had their eyes upon it; — The latter has yet. . . . If I could 
mingle any selfish feelings with interests to my country so vast, 
I would desire no higher honor than to be an instrument in se- 
curing it."^ 

On May 9, he wrote the President in the same vein. "Since 
my first despatch to Mr. Webster," ran the letter, "I have had 
an interview with General Santa Anna and although I did not 
broach to him directly the subject of our correspondence I have 
but little doubt that I shall be able to accomplish your wishes 
and to add also the acquisition of Upper California. This latter 
I believe will be by far the most important event that has oc- 
curred to our country. Do me the favor to read my despatch to 
Mr. Webster in which my views of the matter are briefly sketched. 
I should be most happy to illustrate your administration and my 
own name by an acquisition of such lasting benefit to my country. 
Upon this subject I beg your special instructions both as to 
moving in the matter and the extent to which I am to go in the 
negotiations and the amount to be paid. The acquisition of 
Upper California will reconcile the Northern people as they 
have large fishing and commercial interests in the Pacific. . . . 

1 MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in 
Mexico. Vol. 11. 

48 Graduate School Publications. 

Be pleased also to have me pretty strongly instructed on the 
subject of claims or leave the responsibility to me."^ 

Webster replied on June 27, saying, "That part of your des- 
patch No. 1 relative to California and your private letter to the 
President of the 9th of May have been considered. ... In 
seeking acquisitions, to be governed as Territories, and lying 
at a great distance from the United States we ought to be gov- 
erned by our prudence and caution; and a still higher degree of 
these qualities should be exercised when large Territorial acqui- 
sitions are looked for, with a view to annexation. Nevertheless, 
the benefit of the possession of a good Harbour on the Pacific is 
so obvious, that to that extent, at least, the President strongly 
inclines to favor the idea of a treaty with Mexico. . . . You 
are at liberty to sound the Mexican Government upon the subject 
of a cession of the Territory upon the Pacific, in satisfaction of 
those claims, or some of them. ... I do not think that 
England has any present purpose of obtaining that important 
place, or would interpose any obstacle to the acquisition of it by 
the United States. What may be the wishes of France in this 
respect, I cannot say. You will please proceed in this matter 
very cautiously, and quite formally; seeking rather to lead the 
Mexican Secretary to talk on the subject, than to lead directly 
to it yourself. You will be particularly careful not to suffer the 
Mexican Government to suppose that it is an object upon which 
we have set our hearts, or for the sake of which we should be 
willing to make large remuneration. The cession must be spoken 
of rather as a convenience to Mexico, or as a mode of discharging 
her debts." 2 

In view of the fact that Mexico had taken no steps toward the 
payment of the awards made by the commission, and in view 
of the fact also that the undecided claims as well as new ones 
were being urged against her, it might have been reasonably 
hoped that she would at least consider Webster's proposal. But 
the proposition was scarcely out of his hands when he received 
a most sharp and hostile note from Bocanegra, the Mexican Sec- 
retary of State, denouncing the United States for openly and 
publicly ignoring the obligations of neutrality with reference to 

1 MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in 
Mexico. Vol. 11. 

2 Van Tyne. Letters of Daniel Webster, pp. 269-270. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 49 

Mexico's renewed attempt to put down the rebellion in Texas 
and bring that province back under her control.^ Webster gave 
the note a masterly reply on July 8; ' but the event went a long 
way toward destroying the plan of trading the claims for terri- 
tory. Whatever hopes of its success may have remained were 
soon to be completely blasted by another incident. Commodore 
Jones of the Pacific squadron, learning of the sharp correspond- 
ence between Bocanegra and Webster, chanced to come into 
possession of certain newspapers which led him to believe that 
war had actually begun between United States and Mexico. In 
view of this, he felt it to be his duty to secure some point on the 
Pacific Coast in order to guard the American interests there. 
Consequently in October, 1842, he attacked and captured the 
city of Monterey. Although he held it but one day and although 
the United States disavowed the act at once, yet the affair 
brought forth sharp correspondence and more bitter feeling.' 
On Januarj^ 30, 1843, Thompson wrote Webster that "it is wholly 
out of the question to do anything as to California and after 
recent events there it would be imprudent to allude to it in 
any way."* 

Tyler now gave up all idea of trading the claim^s for territory. 
The events connected with it, however, are interesting and im- 
portant, since they cast some light upon the motives behind 
it. If Tyler's letter to Webster on October 11, 1841, were sincere, 
then slavery w'as a stumbling block to his policy of expansion 
rather than a help. Thompson's correspondence shows the same 
thing, since he suggested another compromise in order to get 
slavery out of the question. More than this, Webster, the man 
whom the anti-slavery party quoted with so much pride as 
voicing the sentiments of the North, gave his consent to the 
acquiring of California in payment of the claims. If Tyler 
were in a slave state conspiracy to get land, then Webster was 
an accomplice to it. It is true that Webster might not have 
known the designs of the President; and yet he certainly had a 
better chance to know them than Adams did. 

The other charge that Tyler left the claims grievance open in 

' House Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 5, No. 266, pp. 5-6. 
^Ibid., pp. 7-15. 

' House Documents, 27th Congress, 2d Session, Vol. 5, No. 166. 
* Webster MSS. Library of Congress. Vol. 3, p. 163. 

50 Graduate School Publications. 

order that he might resort to it as a cause for war to accomplish 
his designs can be answered only by a study of the history of 
these complaints during his administration.^ 

At the time the sharp correspondence over neutrality was 
going on, Webster addressed, July 9, 1842, a letter to Thompson 
on the claims. In this he criticised the conduct of the Mexican 
commissioners on the board of arbitration; objected to that pro- 
vision in the convention which allowed Mexico to pay the awards 
in treasury notes, since now they were worth not more than 
twenty-five per cent of face value; and concluded that "Mexico 
must understand that, having consented to very moderate com- 
pensation for the injuries of citizens of the United States, we 
shall insist upon payment of that compensation in some straight- 
forward and satisfactory manner. "^ 

Thompson now proceeded to negotiate for the payment of 
the awards and for the adjustment of those claims that had been 
left undecided by the late commission. His work resulted in a 
convention which was signed January 30, 1843. This provided 
that on April 30, 1843, the Mexican government should pay all 
the interest then due on the awards in gold and silver coin; and, 
beginning with this date, should pay in equal quarterly install- 
ments the principal and accruing interest until the whole debt 
were cancelled. Article six provided for the undecided claims. 
"A new convention," it stipulated, "shall be entered into for 
the settlement of all claims of the Government and citizens of 
the United States against the Republic of Mexico, which were 
not finally decided by the late commission which met in the city 
of Washington, and of all claims of the Government and citizens 
of Mexico against the United States." This last clause, it should 
be noted, put a new question into the claims controversy.^ 

Thompson's correspondence shows that he had experienced 
difficulties in winning Mexico over to the terms of the conven- 
tion. This was no doubt due to the bitter feeling which had 
been aroused by the neutrality correspondence and the Jones 
episode. In consequence of this, Mexico became more bold 
and less willing to consent to demands. Thompson thought 
the first clause of article six of the convention quite a victory 

1 Von Hoist states this charge, Vol. 2, p. 627. 

2 Webster's Works (National Edition). Vol. 18, pp. 136-138. 

3 Treaties and Conventions, pp. 560-563. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 51 

since the claims would have been wholly lost had it not been for 
it. In his letter of November 8, 1842, he explained why he felt 
satisfied with his work; and this explanation is especially interest- 
ing and illuminating. He implied that the United States ought 
to be thankful that Mexico had been induced to agree to an 
adjustment of the claims left undecided by the commission, since 
they were "not of such a character of manifest and indisputable 
justice, and very far from being so, in their amounts" as to have 
justified war. He then commented upon the possibility and jus- 
tice of a war over these claims. "The only other alternative 
left," he said, "would have been coercion by w^ar or blockade, — 
would this have secured the immediate payment? It might in 
vengeance and blood, — but not in money. It would doubtless 
have injured the Mexicans greatly, but it would have been a 
long time — two years at least — before they would have been 
brought to terms, if even then, — which I doubt. . . . And 
more than all a war for money is at all times to be avoided, if 
indeed such war is ever justifiable; and it has occurred to me that 
it would be with somewhat of bad grace that we should war upon 
any country because it could not pay its debts when so many 
of our own States are in the same situation."^ These state- 
ments from the letter were never submitted to Congress by the 

Three weeks later, Thompson again wrote in the same vein. 
In speaking of some of the claims, among which was that of 
William Parrott for $690,000, he said, "These claims are not of 
such a character as to justify menace and the execution of that 
menace if compliance is refused. I am constrained to say that 
if they were referred to me as a judge, I could not admit them, 
nay more, I cannot with a clear conscience assist them." Of 
Parrott's claim he remarked, "To assist such a claim would sub- 
ject both me and the Government to ridicule, if nothing more." 
In another place in the letter, he did say that "Claims of the 
most manifest and admitted justice were postponed from day 
to day and from year to year" ^ In communicating extracts of 
this letter to Congress, Tyler included the last quotation, but 
omitted the other references to the claims. 

IMS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents to Mexi- 
co. Vol. 11. The parts of the letter quoted are marked for omission. 

* MS. Archives. Department of State. Despatches from Agents in 
Mexico. Vol. 11, p. 352, or letter dated November 30, 1842. 

52 Graduate School Publications. 

If, as Adams thought, Thompson had been sent to Mexico to 
keep the claims controversy an open sore, then he conducted 
himself badly. His negotiations show that instead of increas- 
ing hostility, he tried to settle the claims by conceding even 
more than he ought to have conceded.^ More than this, instead 
of giving the administration at Washington material for war 
talk he gave just the opposite kind and of so strong a character 
that it did not seem wise to make it public. It is impossible to say 
what Tjder's motives were in omitting the statements condemn- 
ing a war in his transmission of extracts to Congress. What- 
ever they may have been, this conduct does not prove that he 
desired war. Even if he had not entertained the slightest idea 
of going to war, it would have been absurd for him to have sub- 
mitted these statements to the public. 

Mexico now began to pay the installments as provided for 
in the convention of January 30, 1843;^ and the United States 
opened negotiations for a new convention as contemplated in 
its sixth article. On July 25, 1843, Upshur, now Secretary of 
State, sent Thompson elaborate instructions regarding the nature 
of the stipulations which should appear in the new agreement. 
The commission to be formed must have jurisdiction over all 
the claims returned to the former board by the umpire without 
decision, all those which had not been presented to it in due 
time, and all those presented in due time but not acted upon. 
Individual claims must be first disposed of; and when dealing 
with such, the board was to be a judicial and not a diplomatic 
body. The claims of the respective governments upon one 
another were to be confined to such wrongs only as admitted of 
compensation in money. When considering these claims, the 
board was to act as a diplomatic body. The United States would 
permit no claim urged against it by the Mexican government to 
go before the commission without first knowing its precise char- 
acter and giving its assent to submit it to arbitration. The 
claims of one government upon the other must be dealt with as 
a matter wholly separate from that of the individual complaints. 
The danger that would arise from a confusion of the two classes 

1 The second clause of article six of the convention was a considerable con- 

2 She had to resort to a forced loan in order to do it. See Niles' Register. 
Vol. 64, pp. 229 and 259. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 53 

of claims was pointed out again and again. The instructions 
plainly show that the United States did not wish to submit to 
arbitration any claim which the Mexican government as such 
had against her. Upshur remarked in the letter that this govern- 
ment knew of no claim of a pecuniary character that Mexico 
had against us. Special directions were given in regard to Par- 
rott's claim. Mexico's conduct in reference to it was bitterly 
criticised; and the instructions said to this claim, "Ou7' govern- 
ment is now a party — not in interest, but in honor." Thompson's 
judgment of this claim, therefore, was completely repudiated. 
In order that the details of the new convention might be wholly 
satisfactory, a complete draft of it was sent along with the in- 
structions. Thompson's directions were positive and per- 
emptory; he was allowed no liberty even as to the minutest 

The draft of the convention sent by Upshur was not satis- 
factory to Mexico. She wanted the new board to be a diplomatic 
and not a judicial body; and she wished to deny it the right to 
pass upon those claim.s which had been rejected by the late com- 
mission on the ground of jurisdiction and also those which had 
not been presented to it. She desired the place of meeting to 
be Mexico City instead of Washington.^ Thompson succeeded 
in winning over Mexico to his demands except as to the place of 
meeting. He conceded this point, he said, because Mexico made 
it a sine qua non, because it was a minor matter, and because 
Mexico had much reason on her side in the argument.^ 

The convention as signed November 20, 1843, was much like 
that of April 11, 1839, except that it tried to obviate som.e of the 
latter's weak points. All the claims of citizens of the United 
States against Mexico left in any way undecided by the late con;i- 
mission, all the claims of Mexican citizens against this country, 
and all claims of the two governments as such against one another 
were to be submitted to a board of four commissioners which was 
to have two years in which to complete its work. The umpire 
was to be chosen by the King of Belgium; and in case of 
his refusal, the King of Denmark or the Emperor of Austria. 
The umpire was to have three months after the close of the 

1 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 158, pp. 3-14. 

^lUd., pp. 16-17. 

3 Ibid., p. 20. Also Thompson's Recollections, pp. 225-226. 

54 Graduate School Publications. 

board's sessions to decide any claims that remained in his hands. 
Each nation agreed to furnish documents; and in case of a re- 
fusal, the point for which the document was called would be 
held valid as claimed. In deciding upon the claims of indi- 
viduals, the board was to sit as a judicial body; when deciding 
those of the respective governments, article fifteen of the conven- 
tion provided a special method whereby the commissioners 
would act as the agents of their governments and when they 
failed to agree, they were to be empowered to refer the case 
to the arbiter.^ 

The Senate ratified the convention January 30, 1844, but 
made two important changes in it. The place for the meeting 
of the commission was changed from Mexico City to Washing- 
ton; and the article providing for the arbitrament of the claims 
that the two governments had upon one another was entirely 
stricken out.^ This action of the Senate is extremely significant. 
In spite of Thompson's statement that Mexico made the meet- 
ing of the board in Mexico City a sine qua non, yet the Senate 
changed it. And in direct violation of the last clause of article 
six of the convention of January 30, 1843, the Senate struck out 
all provision for settling the claims which the governments had 
against one another. 

Ten days after the Senate's ratification, Upshur sent Thomp- 
son a long letter explaining the causes for the changes. Stripped 
of profuse arguments and senseless apologies, it appears to have 
assigned two reasons for the Senate's amendments. First, 
Mexico City was not a convenient place for the meeting of the 
commission since nearly all the claimants and documents were 
in this country. And second, "It never could have been in the 
contemplation of the parties to refer to the umpirage of a third 
power any question involving national dignity and honor." In 
this connection, the letter again pointed out that neither govern- 
ment had any claims against the other which rested on a pecun- 
iary consideration.-'^ 

What truth there was in these explanations, it is difficult to 
say. Von Hoist implies that the Texas question may have had 

1 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 158, pp. 28-32. 
"^ Executive Journal. United States Senate. Vol. 6, pp. 228-229. 
' MS. Archives. Department of State. Instructions to Agents in Mexico. 
Vol. 15, pp. 275-288. Letter dated February 9, 1844. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 55 

something to do with the Senate's conduct.^ In the fall of 1843, 
a fear of British influence had led Tyler and Upshur to open up 
the annexation project. Texas was secretly invited to join the 
Union, but Houston turned a cold shoulder to the proposition. 
This being the situation when the convention was presented to 
the Senate, it is thought that the administration quietly induced 
the Senate to practically nullify the treaty so that there might 
remain causes for a war through which Texas could be gotten. 
There is no evidence which will justify this suspicion. The 
profound secrecy with which the annexation movement was 
conducted makes it seem incredible that the Senate could have 
been influenced by it. More than this, the same Senate that 
nullified the convention, two months later rejected the Texas 
treaty. If the slave state interests were dominating the Senate, 
then it becomes impossible to explain why fifteen slave state 
members voted against the annexation treaty. It is unnecessary 
to assume the existence of ulterior motives to explain one of the 
Senate's changes. It was patent to everybody that Mexico's 
one claim against the United States was with reference to the 
violation of neutrality regarding Texas. The Senate no doubt 
saw that it would be worse than usless to permit a commission 
to wrangle over this. Succeeding events will show, too, that 
Tyler had no thought of going to war over the claims; his mind 
was completely engaged in a different policy. 

While the Texas treaty was under negotiation, Mexico ceased 
to pay the awards under the convention of January 30, 1843. 
The installment due April 30, 1844, was not met. Green, acting 
as a charge d'affaires in Mexico, declared in a letter to Calhoun 
of May 16 that Mexico was "expecting from day to day to hear 
of the annexation of Texas, which will offer an excuse for not 
paying at all." ^ On June 20, Calhoun, Secretary of State, 
wrote Shannon, who had taken Thompson's place in Mexico, 
directing him "to remonstrate in the strongest terms against 
this apparent indifference to the obligation of contract." ^ Shan- 
non's remonstrances, however, were met with such sharp 
answers that on November 8 he refused to communicate further 
w^ith the Mexican government until he received new instructions 

1 Von Hoist. Vol. 2, pp. 635-636. 

2 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 4, No. 144, p. 14. 
'Senate Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 21-24. 

56 Graduate School Publications. 

from Washington.' Four days later he explained his conduct 
to Calhoun, saying that if he had followed his own feelings he 
would have demanded his passports. He remarked that he 
thought the policy of forbearance towards Mexico a mistaken 
one and suggested that Congress ought "to begin to act, and 
vindicate the honor of the country as well as the just rights of 
our plundered citizens." ^ 

On December 19, 1844, Tyler sent Shannon's correspondence 
to Congress, accompanying it with a four-page message which 
reviewed the numerous grievances we had against Mexico. "A 
course of conduct," said the message, "such as has been described 
on the part of Mexico . • . might well justify the United 
States in a resort to any measures to vindicate their national 
honor; but actuated by a sincere desire to preserve the general 
peace, . . . the Executive . . . abstains from recom- 
mending to Congress a resort to measures of redress, and con- 
tents itself with reurging upon that body prompt and immediate 
action on the subject of annexation." ^ 

This message meant that Tyler was going to ignore the claims 
for the time being and bend all his energies to the securing of 
Texas. At any rate he did this. He evidently cared nothing 
for the grievances against Mexico further than to make them 
look large in the eyes of his enemies so that they could not hurl 
at him the accusation that he was despoiling an innocent sister 

Although the claims had nothing to do with the final act in the 
annexation drama, nevertheless the history of this act throws 
some important light upon the motives that lay back of Tyler's 
whole Mexican policy. When the Joint Resolution was before 
Congress from January to March, 1845, slavery extension con- 
stituted the most important subject of discussion in connection 
with it. Sumner said that the grand impelling motive of annexa- 
tion "was the desire to extend the institution of slavery, and to 
strengthen the political combination and power which are founded 
upon it." * Hundreds of references containing the same idea 

1 House Documents, 28th Congiess, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 19, pp. 19-27. 

2 Ibid., pp. 5-8. See also Reports of American Historical Association. Vol. 
2, (1899), p. 995. 

3 House Documents, 28th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 19, pp. 1-4. 
* Report to the Massachusetts Legislature, April, 1847. Old South Leaflets. 

Vol. 6, pp. 140-141. 

Claims as a Cavse of (he Mexican War. 57 

might be cited. Up to the last decade, this interpretation has 
been the accepted one. The annexation of Texas was simply 
the climax of a great conspiracy that southern statesmen had 
been cherishing for twenty years. 

Some later American historians, however, refute this inter- 
pretation. John Bassett Moore, ^ Albert Bushnell Hart,^ and 
George Pierce Garrison^ maintain that annexation was in the 
end the "triumph of the impulse toward expansion." They 
hold that slavery was a drawback to the movement; and, had 
it not been for the struggles over it, annexation would have been 
accomplished earlier and with great ease. The vote in Congress 
on the Joint Resolution furnishes an interesting commentary on 
this later interpretation. In the Senate, fourteen slave state 
and thirteen free state men voted for the resolution, and twelve 
slave and thirteen free state men against it. In the House, 
sixty-seven slave state and fifty-three free state men were in 
favor of it, and eighteen slave and eighty free state men against 
it.* Webster declared that it was the North that let in Texas.^ 
There is no m.anner in which this vote can be explained away. 
The question had gone to the people in the presidential campaign 
of 1844, and they had decided for it. The debate in Congress 
was full and complete ; in fact, it was one of the famous debates 
in the history of that body. To call the vote a party vote does 
not alter the matter. It was not a line up along slave and free 
state interests. Tyler's expansion policy had won because he 
had a majority of Congress and the country on his side. Expan- 
sion was the grand impelling motive back of Tyler's administra- 
tion; and v/hen this is known, it is unnecessary to read conspiracy 
into every act that grew out of the Mexican relations. The 
claims were an insignificant matter with Tyler; and it seems 
doubtful whether he ever thought of going to war over them. 
Slavery was a tremendous problem which he had to face; but 
again it seems certain that he Avas not in conspiracy with her so 
far as his Texas policy was concerned. 

'"American Diplomacy," p. 234. 
2 "National Ideals Historically Traced," p. 2G. 
^ "Westward Extension," pp. 149-150. 

^Worked out from the House and Senate Journals, 28th Congress, 2d Ses- 

6 Works (Old Edition). Vol. 2, pp. 5.53-5.54, 437-438 and Vol. 5, p. 260. 

Claims and the Mexican War — 1845-1848 

As in the case of Tyler, expansion was to be one of the great 
aims of Polk. George Bancroft, his Secretary of Navy, said in 
a letter to Schouler of February, 1887, that the acquisition of 
California was from the beginning of his administration one of 
the four great measures which he intended to accomplish.^ 
Scores of references from Polk's diary and public documents 
might be cited to show the truth of this statement. This is an 
intensely important fact, since no just estimate of the part that 
the claims or slavery played in the Mexican War can be arrived 
at unless it be kept constantly in mind. Still once more, it is 
the old question whether the claims were made a pretext for war 
in order that new slave territory might be added to the Union. 

When Polk became President, the Mexican situation was this. 
Mexico had ceased to pay the awards under the convention of 
January 30, 1843; and the convention of November 20 of the 
same year had failed to be ratified, thereby leaving all the unde- 
cided and new claims to be a source of grievance between the 
two countries. Besides this, the diplomatic relations were com- 
pletely severed, since Mexico had withdrawn her minister from 
Washington at the time Congress passed the Joint Resolution 
annexing Texas, and since United States had all but recalled 
Shannon from Mexico by rebuking him for breaking the nego- 
tiations over the claims in November, 1844. Polk's first task 
was, therefore, to renew diplomatic relations. 

On March 28, 1845, Polk sent as a secret agent to Mexico 
William S. Parrott, the man whose large claim had caused so 
much trouble, and instructed him to determine whether Mexico 
would be willing to renew intercourse; and if he found that she 
would, then he was to make known his official character and in- 
form her that this government would send a minister as soon as 
official information were received in regard to her willingness to 
accept him.^ 

1 Schouler, Vol. 4 (Revised Edition), p. 499. 

* Jesse S. Reeves. "American Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk," pp. 


Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 59 

During the summer of 1845, despatches were received from 
Parrott and other agents in Mexico which led Polk to believe 
that a minister would be received. Accordingly he called a cabi- 
net meeting on September 16 and laid the matter before it. 
What took place at this meeting is thus described by the Presi- 
dent in his diary: "After much consultation it was agreed 
unanimously, that it was expedient to re-open Diplomatic rela- 
tions with Mexico; — but that it was to be kept a profound 
secret — that such a step was contemplated, — for the reason 
mainly that if it were known in advance in the U. S. — that a 
minister had been sent to Mexico, — it would of course be known 
to the British, French and other Foreign Ministers at Washing- 
ton, — who might take measures to thwart or defeat the objects of 
the mission. The President in consultation with the Cabinet 
agreed that the Hon. John Slidell of New Orleans, — who spoke 
the Spanish language, — and was otherwise well qualified should 
be tendered the mission. . . . One great object of the mission 
as stated by the President, would be to adjust a permanent boun- 
dary between Mexico and the U. States, — and that in doing this 
the minister would be instructed to purchase for a pecuniary 
consideration Upper California and New Mexico. He said that 
a better boundary would be the Del Norte from its mouth to the 
Passa in latitude about 32° North, and thence West to the Pacific 
Ocean, — Mexico ceding to the U. S. all the country east and north 
of these lines. The President said that for such a boundary, — 
the amount of pecuniary consideration to be paid, — would be of 
small importance. He supposed it might be had for fifteen or 
twenty millions, but was ready to pay forty millions for it, if it 
could not be had for less. In these views the Cabinet agreed 
with the President unanimously."^ 

The next day information was received which made the Presi- 
dent doubt whether a minister would be accepted by Mexico. It 
was then decided that Mr. Black, a consul in Mexico, should be 
instructed to find out; and accordingly Buchanan, Secretary of 
State, immediately addressed him a letter asking him "to ascer- 
tain from the Mexican Government whether they would receive 
an envoy from the United States, intrusted with full power to 
adjust all the questions in dispute between the two govern- 

' Polk's ISJS. Diary. New York Public Library. Entry for September 
16, 1845. 

60 Graduate School Puhlications. 

ments."^ On October 13, 1845, Black put the question in Bu- 
chanan's own words to Pena y Pena, the Mexican Minister of 
Foreign Affairs.^ Two days later, Pena y Pena answered "that 
although the Mexican nation is deeply injured by the United 
States, through the acts committed by them in the department 
of Texas, which belongs to this nation, my government is dis- 
posed to receive the commissioner of the United States who may 
come to this Capital with full powers from his government to 
settle the present dispute in a peaceful, reasonable, and honorable 
manner." As a pre-condition, however, United States must 
recall the naval force lying in the Gulf of Mexico.^ 

While the President was waiting for this information, he took 
the second step in his California policy. As early as June 24, 
1845, Bancroft, Secretary of the Navy, had written Commodore 
John D. Sloat, commander of the United States naval forces in 
the Pacific, instructing him, in the event of a declaration of war 
by Mexico against the United States, to immediately take posses- 
sion of the port of San Francisco and blockade such other ports 
as his forces would permit.^ Polk now sent, October 17, 1845, 
Thomas O. Larkin as a secret agent to California, instructing 
him to inspire the people of the territory "with a jealousy of 
European dominion, and to arouse in their bosoms that love of 
liberty and independence so natural to the American Continent. " 
He was also authorized to say that, while the President would 
use no undue influence to get California "yet if the people should 
desire to unite their destiny with ours they would be received, 
as brethren, whenever this can be done without affording Mexico 
just cause of complaint." ^ 

By November 7 Black 's correspondence with Pena y Pena was 
received; and on this day, Polk and Buchanan began to discuss the 
instructions which were to be given to Slidell as minister to 
Mexico.^ By the next day they were finished and submitted to 
the Cabinet where they were "discussed, amended, and agreed 

' House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, p. 8. 

2 House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, pp. 10-11. 

UUd., pp. 11-12. 

^ House Documents, 30th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 7, No. 60, p. 231. 

^ Moore. Works of James Buchanan. Vol. 6, pp. 275-278. On October 
30, Lieutenant Gellespie was sent to co-operate with Larkin. See Polk's 
Diary for this date. 

* Polk's MS. Diary for November 7, 1845. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 61 

to unanimously." ^ There is no evidence that either Polk or the 
members of his Cabinet raised the question regarding the difference 
between the proposition which United States put to Mexico and 
the thing to which Mexico agreed. United States asked if 
Mexico would accept an envoy with full power to settle all dis- 
putes between the two nations, and Mexico replied that she 
w^ould receive a commissioner entrusted with full power to settle 
the present dispute; that is, the Texas affair. Whether Polk 
purposely ignored the difference it is impossible to say. At any 
rate, Slidell went to Mexico under full powers of a minister. 

As noted above, his instructions had been prepared with great 
care. Excepting the introduction, which restated the Monroe 
Doctrine," these instructions dealt with two questions, that of 
the claims and that regarding the boundary, and they showed 
how one of these might be m.ade to solve the other.' 

"The history of no civilized nation," said the instructions, 
"presents in so short a period of time so many wanton attacks 
upon the rights of persons and property as have been endured 
by citizens of the United States from the Mexican authorities." 
The history of the claims was then taken up and the duty of 
adjusting them was enjoined upon Slidell. " But in what manner," 
continued the letter, "can this duty be performed consistently 
with the amicable spirit of your m.ission? The fact is too well 
known to the world, that the Mexican government are not now 
in a condition to satisfy these claims by the payment of m.oney. 
Unless the debt should be assumed by the government of the 
United States, the claimants cannot receive what is justly their 
due. Fortunately, the joint resolution of Congress, approved 
1st March, 1845, 'for annexing Texas to the United States,' 
presents the means of satisfying these claims, in perfect consist- 
ency with the interests, as well as the honor of both republics. 
It has reserved to this government the adjustment 'of all ques- 
tions of boundary that may arise with other governments. ' 
This question of boundarj^ may, therefore, be adjusted in such 
a manner between the two republics as to cast the burden of the 
debt due to American claimants upon their own government, 
whilst it will do no injury to Mexico. " 

1 Polk's MS. Diary for November 8, 184.5. 

' Polk sincerely believed that England was trying to get California. 
' For these instructions see Senate Documents, 30th Congress, 1st Session. 
Vol. 7, No. 60, pp. 3.3-43. 

62 Graduate School Publications. 

Then followed specific propositions whereby the claims might 
be traded for a cession of territory. If Mexico would part with 
that remote and detached province of New Mexico, the United 
States would assume all the claims and pay five million dollars 
besides. In case she did not wish to cede this much, and would 
agree to the Del Norte boundary as laid down in the act of the 
Texan Congress of December 19, 1836, then this government 
would assume simply the payment of the claims. But in the 
event that Mexico would be willing to cede California, then 
"money would be no object." The United States would as- 
sume all the claims and give twenty-five million dollars besides 
for a boundary "running due west from the southern extremity 
of New Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, or from any other point on 
its western boundary which would embrace Monterey within 
our limits." Twenty million dollars and the assumption of the 
claims would be given "for any boundary commencing at any 
point on the western line of New Mexico and running due west 
to the Pacific, so as to include the bay and harbor of San Fran- 

The nature of Shdell 's instructions were kept profoundly secret. 
Polk says that Mr. Trist and his private secretary were the only 
persons outside of his Cabinet who knew anything about them.^ 
Slidell even apologized to Buchanan for telling his wife about the 
mission.^ These instructions were never made public until the 
treaty closing the Mexican War was submitted to Congress.^ 
Polk reviewed the Mexican situation in his annual message of 
December 2, 1845, describing the flagrant wrongs we had suffered 
at the hands of that government, but concluded that he would 
await the results of Slidell 's mission before recommending ulterior 
measures of redress.^ 

Shdell reached Mexico about December 1, at the very time 
Herrera's government was tottering to its fall due to another 
revolution. The Mexican government informed him before he 
reached the capital that they were not expecting an envoy yet for 

1 Polk's MS. Diary, November 10, 1845. 

2 Curtis. Life of Buchanan. Vol. 1, pp. 591-592. 

3 Nevertheless, the objects of the mission were correctly guessed within a 
month after the instructions were written. See Niles' Register. Vol. 69, pp. 
209, 147-148, 161, 203 and 244-245. See also National Inielligencer for 
December 13, 15, and 18, 1845. 

< Senate Documents, 29th Congress, let Session. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 6-9. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 63 

a month and that they were being called traitors for offering to 
negotiate with the United States.^ Slidell paid no attention to 
this caution, but pressed vigorously the question of his recogni- 
tion. On December 20, Pena y Pena informed him that his 
government could not accept him in his full capacity as minister. 
He declared that Mexico had agreed to receive only a commis- 
sioner who had full power to adjust the one dispute which had 
caused the rupture of diplomatic relations, namely, the annexa- 
tion of Texas. No friendly relations could be established until 
this was settled; and when Slidell received power to act specifically 
upon this subject, then he would be received. 

Four days later, December 24, 1845, Slidell answered Pena y 
Pena, making a sharp attack upon Mexico's refusal to receive 
him. And although he had no right to discuss diplomatic ques- 
tions with that government prior to his recognition, nevertheless, 
he opened up the subject of claims. He gave them a bitter char- 
acterization and then added: "The United States have never 
yet, in the course of their history, failed to vindicate, and success- 
fully, too, against the most powerful nations of the earth, the 
rights of their injured citizens. If such has been their course in 
their infancy, and when comparatively feeble, it cannot be pre- 
sumed that they will deviate from it now. " Three days later he 
withdrew to Jalapa to await new instructions from his govern- 

In the meantime, news of Slidell 's treatment had reached 
Washington; and, on January 13, 1846, the President directed 
the Secretary of War to order General Taylor to advance and 
occupy a position on or near the east bank of the Rio del Norte 
River. ^ A week later, Buchanan sent Slidell his commission as 
minister to Mexico and with it a new set of instructions. These 
approved of his course so far and pointed out that Mexico was 
evidently quibbling over the mere form of his credentials for the 
purpose of evading "the redress of the real injuries of our citizens, 
by confining the negotiation to the adjustment of a pecuniary 
indemnity for its imaginary rights over Texas. " This could not 
be tolerated; the two subjects of claims and boundary must go 

1 Brantz Mayer. History of the Mexican War, pp. 80-81. 

2 For Slidell correspondence so far, see House Documents, 29th Congress, 
1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, first 40 pages. 

3 Ibid., pp. 25-28. 

64 Graduate School Publications. 

hand in hand. As to the general policy which Slidell was to pur- 
sue, the instructions said, "The desire of the President is, that 
you should conduct yourself with such wisdom and firmness in 
the crisis, that the voice of the American people shall be unani- 
mous in favor of redressing the wrongs of our much injured and 
long suffering claimants."^ Still a week later, Buchanan again 
addressed Slidell, saying, "Should the Mexican government, 
however, finally refuse to receive you, the cup of forbearance 
will then have been exhausted. Nothing can remain but to take 
the redress of the injuries to our citizens, and the insults to our 
government, into our own hands. "'^ 

These two letters of January 20 and 28 did not reach Slidell 
until March 1; and in the meantime, the President's mind had 
become very active in formulating schemes for settling the Mexi- 
can situation. On February 13, Polk received a visit from 
Colonel Atacha who represented himself as a Spaniard by birth, 
a naturalized citizen of the United States, and an intimate friend 
of Santa Anna whom he had recently visited in Havana where 
in exile. From this interview, Polk learned that Santa Anna 
was back of the Paredes revolution and would soon be restored 
to power in Mexico, in which event he would cede to the United 
States the territory desired for thirty million dollars. On the 
following day, Polk laid this information before his Cabinet and 
cautiously suggested that C. P. Van Ness be sent as a secret 
agent to Santa Anna. Buchanan opposed the scheme.^ 

Two days later, Polk gave Atacha another interview two hours 
in length. In the conversation, Atacha emphasized the fact 
that United States must make a show of force against Mexico 
before anything could be accomplished. Polk made no reply 
further than to say that Mexico would have to satisfy the claims.* 
Polk again laid the matter before the Cabinet and "an ani- 
mated conversation took place." The part the President took 
in it is thus described in his diary: "I expressed the opinion — 

1 House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, pp. 44-45. 

2 Ibid., pp. 46-47. 

3 Polk's MS. Diary, February 13 and 14, 1846. Although Polk says nothing 
about it in his diary, nevertheless a secret agent was sent to Santa Anna and 
the United States did help him back to Mexico. See a letter of Alexander 
Slidell MacKenzie to Buchanan, June 7, 1846, quoted by J. S. Reeves, "Ameri- 
can Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk," pp. 299-307. 

* Polk's MS. Diary, February 16, 1846. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 65 

that it would be necessary to take strong measures towards 
Mexico, — before our difficulties with that Government could be 
settled, and I proposed that in addition to Mr. Slidell 's present 
instructions, he should be further instructed to demand an early 
decision of the Mexican Government, whether they would receive 
him as minister or not; and if they received him whether they 
would without unreasonable delay, — pay the amount due to 
American claimants; and that if that Government refused to do 
one or both, that he should leave the country, but instead of 
returning immediately to the U. States, as he had been instructed 
to do, he should go on board one of our vessels of war at Vera 
Cruz, and there remain until he had further instructions from 
his Government. I stated that in that event I would send a 
strong message to Congress calling on that body to authorize me 
to cause another demand to be made by Mr. Slidell from on board 
the vessel of war, on the Mexican Government, to pay our de- 
mands, and if this was refused by Mexico, to confer authority on 
the executive to take redress into our hands, by aggressive meas- 
ures." Buchanan again opposed the scheme, and the President 
went on to describe the bad mood of his Secretary of State and 
the strained relations that existed between them.^ 

The President 's aggressive measures having thus been thwarted 
he now turned to a different plan. On March 12, he had Buchanan 
issue additional instructions to Slidell directing him not to leave 
Mexico without making a formal demand for recognition, since if 
he did the support of the President in Congress might be affected 
in case war had to be declared. As a last resort to peaceful 
methods, the letter also said, "It would be easy for you to make 
known to him (Paredes) in some discreet manner that the United 
States were both able and willing to relieve his administration 
from pecuniary embarrassment, if he would do us justice and 
settle the question of boundary between the two republics. "^ 
Polk tried to get Congress to appropriate a million dollars to 
use in the negotiations; and consulted in regard to it Ingersoll, 
CuUom, Cass, Benton, and Calhoun, but Calhoun opposed it and 
it was dropped.^ 

1 Polk's MS. Diary, February 17, 1846. 

2 Quoted from MS. Archives, Department of State, by Jesse S. Reeves. 
"American Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk," pp. 294-295. The part of the 
letter containing the bribe was never submitted to Congress. 

3 Polk's MS. Diary, March 25, 28, 30, and April 3, 1846. 


66 Graduate School Publications. 

But on the same day that these additional instructions were 
written, Slidell was refused recognition. The letter of refusal 
was sharp and insulting and the denial was unequivocal. Mexico 
held that to admit an envoy in general was equivalent to the ad- 
mission that the question which had produced the rupture of 
diplomatic intercourse was at an end and that relations of friend- 
ship existed.^ 

All of Polk's schemes so far, honorable and dishonorable, had 
failed. Had he not been so zealous for California, he might 
have consented to a separation of the two questions of claims and 
boundary, with a slight possibility at least of settling both. But 
as it was, war alone remained; and to this some of his Cabinet 
and some of the leaders in Congress still objected. Buchanan 
and Bancroft wanted a declaration of it postponed until Mexico 
actually committed some act of hostility, while Calhoun and 
Benton desired that the Oregon question be first settled. Polk 
could make no reply to their opposition except by saying that 
the claims constituted a sufficient cause.^ On May 9, the event 
occurred which relieved the President from his dilemma, since on 
this day he received General Taylor's letter of April 26, describing 
the attack that had been made by the Mexicans upon a party of 
our troops on the east bank of the Rio Grande. Polk now called 
the second Cabinet meeting for the day, and war was finally 
agreed upon, and two days later the message went to Congress.* 

This message is a peculiar state paper, and one the logic of 
which is impossible to understand unless viewed in the light that 
the President aimed more to get support for the war than to de- 
scribe truthfully the causes that led to it. The message first 
dealt with Slidell's mission. It was asserted that this minister 
had been sent to Mexico only after that country had agreed to 
receive him; which was, of course, not the exact truth, since 
Mexico had agreed to receive a commissioner with full power to 
settle the present dispute while the United States had asked if she 
would receive an envoij with full power to settle all questions in 
controversy between the two nations. The treatment that Sli- 
dell had received was then severely condemned, and reasons were 

^ House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, pp. 57-61. 

2 Polk's MS. Diary, April 7, 18, 21, 25, 28, and May 3, 1846. 

3 Polk's MS. Diary, May 9, 1846, and House Documents, 29th Congress, 1st 
Session. Vol. 6, No. 196, p. 120. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 67 

assigned why the United States had refused to separate the two 
questions of claims and boundary. "The redress of the wrongs, " 
it says, "of our citizens naturally and inseparably blended itself 
with the question of boundary. The settlement of the one 
question, in any correct view of the subject, involves that of the 
other. I could not, for a moment, entertain the idea that the 
claims of our much injured and long-suffering citizens, many of 
which had existed for more than twenty years, should be post- 
poned, or separated from the settlement of the boundary ques- 

But the second part of the message proceeds to deny that 
there was any boundary question, since it cites four or five proofs 
to show that the Rio Grande was the line between United States 
and Mexico, and that the land between this river and the Nueces 
belonged to this country. Hence, when the Mexican troops 
had crossed the Rio Grande and attacked a detachment from 
General Taylor's army, they had thereby "invaded our territory, 
and shed American blood upon American soil." Polk seems to 
have forgotten that he had instructed Slidell in November, 1845, 
to negotiate for this same Rio Grande boundary in case he could 
not secure one which would give us more territory. 

The claims themselves which had been considered the one 
great grievance we had against Mexico received very little con- 
sideration in the message ; in fact, not one tenth of it was devoted 
to a discussion of them. One of the closing paragraphs, how- 
ever, did say, "Our commerce with Mexico has been almost 
annihilated. It was formerly highly beneficial to both nations; 
but our merchants have been deterred from prosecuting it by 
the system of outrage and extortion which the Mexican authori- 
ties have pursued against them, whilst their appeals through 
their own government for indemnity have been made in vain. 
Our forbearance has gone to such an extreme as to be mistaken 
in its character. Had we acted with vigor in repelling the in- 
sults and redressing the injuries inflicted by Mexico at the com- 
mencement, we should have escaped all the difficulties in which 
we are now involved. . . . The cup of forbearance had been 
exhausted even before the recent information from the frontier 
of the Del Norte." When this quotation is interpreted critically, 
it leads to the conclusion that after all the claims were the funda- 
mental cause for the war. But Polk saw fit to emphasize Slidell's 
insolent treatment at the hands of Mexico and the shedding 

68 Graduate School Publications. 

of American blood upon American soil as the causes for war 
rather than the less exciting subject of claims, since thereby he 
evidently thought he could better arouse the spirit of Congress 
and the country.^ 

On the same day that it received the message, the House passed 
a war measure by a vote of one hundred and seventy-four to 
fourteen. The documents accompanying the message were not 
even read and no debate was allowed.^ The action of the Senate 
was nearly as hasty. It discussed the message a little on May 
11, but on the following day passed an act recognizing a state 
of war by a vote of forty to two.^ 

On the day that war was formally declared, May- 13, 1846, 
Polk made an entry in his diary which is worthy of being quoted 
at length since it shows what was no doubt the real motive for 
the war. "Mr. Buchanan," says the entry, "read the draft of 
a despatch which he had prepared to our ministers at London, 
Paris and other Foreign Courts announcing the declaration of 
war against Mexico, with a statement of the causes and objects 
of the war, with a view that they should communicate its sub- 
stance to the respective Governments to which they are accredited. 
Among other things Mr. Buchanan had stated that our object 
was not to dismember Mexico, or make conquests, and that the 
Del Norte was the boundary to which we claimed, or rather that 
in going to war we did not do so with a view to acquire either 
California or New Mexico or any other portion of the Mexican 
Territory. I told him that though we had not gone to war for 
conquest, — yet it was clear that in making peace, we would if 
practicable obtain California and such other portion of the 
Mexican Territory as would be sufficient to indemnify our claim- 
ants in Mexico, and to defray the expenses of the war, which 
that power by her long-continued wrongs and injuries had forced 
us to wage. I told him that it was well known that the Mexican 
Government had no other means of indemnifying us; — Mr. 
Buchanan said if when Mr. McLane announced to Lord Aberdeen 
the existence of the war with Mexico, the latter should demand 
of Mr. McLane to know if we intended to acquire California, or 

1 For the message see Richardson's Messages and Papers of the Presidents. 
Vol. 4, pp. 437-443. 

2 Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 791-795. 
2 Ibid., pp. 782, 795-804. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 69' 

any other part of the Mexican Territory — and no satisfactory 
answer was given, he thought it almost certain that both Eng- 
land and France would join with Mexico in the war against us. 
I told him that the war with Mexico was an affair with which 
neither England, France or any other power had any concern 
— that such an inquiry would be insulting to our Government, — 
and if made I would not answer it, even if the consequence should 
be a war with all of them. I told him I would not tie up my 
hands or make any pledge to any Foreign power as to the terms 
on which I would ultimately make peace with Mexico. I told 
him no Foreign power had any right to demand any such assur- 
ance, and that I would make none such let the consequences 
be what they might. Then said Mr. Buchanan you will have 
war with England as well as Mexico, and probably with France 
also, for neither of these powers will ever stand by and see Cali- 
fornia annexed to the U. S. I told him that before I would 
make the pledge which he proposed, I would meet the war which 
either England or France or all the powers of Christendom — 
might wage, and that I would stand and fight until the last man 
among us fell in the conflict. I told him that neither as a citizen, 
nor as President would I permit or tolerate any intermeddling 
of any European power on this Continent. . . . The dis- 
cussion tonight was one of the most earnest and interesting which 
has occurred in my Cabinet."^ 

Here, without the least doubt, lies the keynote to Polk's Mexi- 
can policy. After he had failed to trade the claims for territory 
by peaceable means, he turned to war to accomplish the same 
purpose. Nearly every movement made by the President dur- 
ing the war points to the fact that California was the all impor- 
tant consideration. Two days after the war was proclaimed, 
Bancroft, Secretary of the Navy, wrote Commodore Sloat of 
the Pacific squadron saying, "A connexion between California, 
and even Sonora, and the present government of Mexico, is 
supposed scarcely to exist. You will, as opportunity offers, 
conciliate the confidence of the people in California, and also 
in Sonora, towards the government of the United States; and 
you will endeavor to render their relations with the United States 
as intimate and as friendly as possible.^ Kearney's expedition 

1 Polk's MS. Diary, May 13, 1846. 

2 House Documents, 30th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 7, No. 60, p. 233-236. 

70 Graduate School Publications. 

planned a few weeks later had the same object in view.^ During 
the early months of the war, while campaigns were being sketched, 
Polk in his diary alludes again and again to his California pro- 
jects, nearly every time observing that Mexico can pay the 
claims in no other manner than by a cession of territory .^ 

With Polk's real object thus clearly in view, it is interesting 
and important to turn to the public justification that he made of 
the war at different times during its progress. The first of these 
justifications did not come from the President; and yet, proceed- 
ing as it did from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it 
may be considered as voicing the opinions which the administra- 
tion wished to go before the country. This report appeared 
June 24, 1846, and gave as the reason for its appearance the 
fact that the exigency of the case prevented the war message 
from going before the committee, and that it was proper that 
the causes of the war should be manifest to the world. This 
report contained fifty-two pages, and fully one half of them were 
given to the claims showing that they constituted a good and 
sufficient cause for war.^ 

By December, 1846, the war had been so severely criticised 
and so often pronounced unjust^ that the President entered into 
a long defence of it in his annual message. He now lays great 
emphasis on the part the claims played in bringing it about, 
and says that if the United States had adopted compulsory 
measures and taken redress into their own hands in accordance 
with Van Buren's recommendations in December, 1837, "all 
our difficulties with Mexico would probably have been long 
since adjusted, and the existing war have been avert -d." After 
reviewing the whole history of the claims, he concludes that "we 
had ample cause of war against Mexico long before the breaking 
out of hostilities." ^ 

This message put the President openly on the defensive and 
Congress and the country now began in earnest to question the 

1 Polk's MS. Diary, May 29, 30, and June 2, 1846. 

2 Ibid., May 14, 16, 20, 29, 30, June 30, July 7, September 26, and November 
28, 1846. 

^ House Reports, 29th Congress, 1st Session. Vol. 4, No. 752. 

* See especially speeches made in Congress on the various bills pertaining 
to the conduct of the war. Congressional Globe. 

^ Richardson. Messages and Papers of the Presidents. Vol. 4, pp. 471-506. 
Eight pages are given to the claims. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 71 

validity of the causes that had been assigned for the war. Four 
days after the message appeared, the National Intelligencer gave 
a six-column editorial to the criticism of it. It asked why the 
President did not do as Van Buren had done, lay the matter 
before Congress instead of declaring war largely upon other 
grounds. It denied that the object of the war was redress, and 
asserted that its aim was conquest. ^ Nearly all the principal 
speeches made in Congress during the session dealing with war 
measures took occasion to attack the message. Giddings asked 
why "the Executive never assigned the non-payment of this 
money as a cause of war until after hostilities were commenced." ^ 
Gentry of Tennessee said that the President had tried to mistify 
the public mind and divert it from the discovery of the true 
causes of the war and himself as the author of it.^ Garrett Davis 
called the message one of Polk's "miserable subterfuges."* 
Caleb Smith of Indiana said, "I cannot but believe, that when 
viewed through any other than a party medium, it will be re- 
garded more like the speech of a bar-room politician upon the 
hustings than such a state paper as should emanate from the 
President of the United States." ^ Severance of Maine declared: 
''Why all the parade of these old claims unless to excuse him for 
commencing the war? If there were cause of war, it was not 
for him to make, but for Congress. . . . Such a pretext for 
war is utterly preposterous; it is evidently an afterthought, 
thrown in with abundance of cunning to justify a foregone con- 
clusion. . . . The prosecution of it looks to conquest, and 
nothing else. The installments of the indemnity now due are 
as but dust in the balance." Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia 
said, "If our honor, gentlemen now seem to regard so tenderly, 
is involved in this matter, why have they slept so long over the 
wrongs of France, committed near half a century ago? . . . 
Why did the President, who would make us believe that he looks 
so anxiously after such matters, veto the bill which passed at the 
last session to render that justice which had been so long de- 
ferred?" « Scores of similar thrusts might be cited; and Polk 
evidently felt the sting of the accusations, for on February 5, 

^ National Intelligencer for December 12, 1846. 

2 Congressional Globe, 29th Congi-ess, 2d Session. Appendix, p. 50. 

3 Ibid., p. 57. ' Ibid., p. 108. ' Ibid., p. 230. 
6 Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 2d Session. Appendix, p. 283. 

72 Graduate School Publications. 

1S47. he wrote in his diary: "I am in the unenviable position of 
being held responsible for the conduct of the Mexican War, when 
I have no support either from Congress or from the two othcers 
(Scott and Taylor) highest in command in the held.'" ^ 

In spite of the fact that his Secretary of State. Buchanan, at 
this time opposed the acquisition of territory," and in spite of 
all the opposition that Congress offered to his war measures, 
Polk never wavered in his policy. In his third annual message 
of December 7, 1S47, he rested the whole justice of the war on 
the groimd of indemnity. '"It is well-known." he said, "that 
the only indemnity which it is in the power of Mexico to make 
in satisfaction of the just and long-deferred claims of our citizens 
against her and the only means by Mhich she can reimburse the 
United States for the expenses of the war is a cession to the 
United States of a portion of her territory. Mexico has no 
money to pay. and no other means of making the required indem- 
nity. To reject indemnity by refusing to accept a cession of 
territory would be to abandon all our just demands, and wage 
the war, bearing all its expenses, without a purpose or definite 
object." Again he said, "'The doctrine of no territory is the 
doctrine of no indemnity, and if sanctioned would be a pubhc 
acknowledgment that our coimtry was wrong and that the war 
declared by Congress with extraordinary unanimity was unjust 
and should be abandoned — an admission unfounded in fact and 
degrading to the national character.''^ 

When the war was closed and the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 
■was submitted to Congress, Polk then for the first time let the 
public know what was in SUdell's secret instructions of November 
10, 1845. In spite of the fact that everybody could now read 
these, and in spite of the fact that every movement during the 
war showed that Cahfornia was its goal, nevertheless in the mes- 
sage transmitting the treaty Polk still had the audacity to say: 
"The extensive and valuable territories ceded by jMexico to the 
United States constitute indemnity for the past, and the brilliant 
achievements and signal successes of our arms will be a guaranty 

1 Polk's MS. Diary, February o, 1S47. 

- Ibid., Xovember 2S, 1S46. Buchanan, however, soon came to desire as 
much territorj- as the President. See Diary for February 21, 1S48. 

^ Richardson. Messages and Papers of the Presidents. Vol. 4, pp. 532-564. 

C: m C<jw*e fnf the Mexi/cian War. 73 


,ty the United States agreed to pay Mexico 
fr ' - ■ .-.' Tbe 

T,". Mexico 

Li jiiTentioiis of April 11, 1839, and 

Jaruiijy -j'j, l^i■i ji^ime the " ' ' : ""la&irt of 

all other claims o: -i:? agaiiast ' . _ signing 

of the treaty, on cot jwever, that the amomit of the 

latter she " ind a quarter million of dollars.* 

By this t; Vnited State* declared as inTalid 

a large fractior. ^eided claims for Tirhich she was fight- 

ing; since, if no L-r^, o.&,:ii,= are considered, those left by the com- 
mission sitting 'irA'rT *h^' ':onTentioi; 'f April 11. 1S39, amotmted 
to over fire l :=. Th- -ion which sat from 

April 16. 1&49; -o a;,::. i5, 1851, : : .:- purpose of adjusting 
the imdecided claims made awards amo^r^^irig to $3 2^^.314.96.^ 
Adding to this a little over a million Mexico 

had failed to pay mider the conventio::^ ' : -^s.-^:^ •yj, 1843,' 
then the total amomit of claims for which United States went 
to war was less than five million. Polk put it very aptly in his 
message transmitting the treaty when he said the territory ac- 
quired constituted an "indenonity for the past": that is, an 
indemnity for the claims as such, for the trouble of going to war, 
and above all for the gratification of the desire for land. 

There can be no possible doubt as to the chief motive that 
lay back of the Mexican War. As Reeves says, "Tl^d the United 
States otAx the matter of Texas to settle with Mexico there 
would have been no difficultj'." * The invasion of Texas and 
the shedding of American blood upon American soil were merely 
pretexts which were used to influence public sentiment. The 
same mav be said of the claims. Polk would certainlv have never 

- Ihui., pp. .567-59.3. 

* Article 12. Treaties and Conventions, pp. ^1-692. 

* Articles 1.3, 14, and 1.5 of the treaty. 

- Moore. International Arbitrations. Vol. 2. pp. 12.5-3-12.54. 

- .See menage transmitting treaty- — Richardson. Messages and papeis rf 
the Pre-ddente. Vol 4, pp. ^7-593. 

* -J. .S. Reeves. American Diplomacy under Tyler and Polk, p. 189. 

74 Graduate School Publications. 

waged a costly war for the sake of getting five million dollars 
indemnity. The chief object of the Mexican War was conquest. 
During Polk's administration, expansion was in the air; and 
there were men in all sections of the country who looked beyond 
even California and New Mexico to Mexico herself. Cass spoke 
openly for the conquest of all Mexico.^ Dickenson of New 
York, at a banquet in celebration of the anniversary of the bat- 
tle of New Orleans, offered a toast on "A more perfect Union, 
embracing the whole of the North American continent. "^ Cabell 
said in the House, " In most of the Democratic meetings through- 
out the country we find the idea of the acquisition of the whole 
of Mexico prominent."^ Calhoun remarked, "There was at 
that time (beginning of the first session of the thirtieth Congress) 
a party scattered over every portion of the country in favor of 
conquering the whole of Mexico. To prove that such was the 
case, it is only necessary to refer to the proceedings of numerous 
large public meetings, to declarations repeatedly made in public 
journals, and to the opinions expressed by officers of the army, 
and individuals of standing and influence, to say nothing of 
declarations made here and in the other House of Congress." * 
General Quitman urged upon the President and Secretary of 
State the permanent military occupation of Mexico, saying that 
it could be held without expense to the United States and with 
but temporary opposition from the Mexican people." ^ Tom 
Corwin in his speech on the Mexican War, February 11, 1847, 
said that he had heard much lately about the dismemberment of 
Mexico; and added, "this uneasy desire to augment our territory 
has depraved the moral sense and blunted the otherwise keen 
sagacity of our people. . . . Our young orators cherish 
this notion with a fervid, but fatally mistaken zeal." ^ Ashbel 
Smith in an address at Galveston, February 22, 1848, said, "The 
Mexican War is a part of the mission, of the destiny allotted to 
the Anglo Saxon race on this continent. It is our destiny, our 
mission to civilize, to Americanize this continent. . . . Nor 

* Congressional Globe, 30th Congress, 1st Session, p. 215. 
2 Quoted by Von Hoist. Vol. 3, pp. 342-343. 
^ Congressional Globe, 30th Congress, 1st Session, p. 428. 
4 Calhoun's Works. Vol. 4, p. 429. 

^ Claiborne's Life and Correspondence of J. A. Quitman. Vol. 2, p. 7. 
Quoted by Von Hoist. Vol. 3, p. 342. 

8 Morrow. Life and speeches of Thomas Corwin, pp. 308-309. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 75 

will there be a stay or hindrance until our institutions shall have 
extended to the Pacific Ocean on the West and the Isthmus of 
Darien on the South." ' Clay, in arguing against these ideals 
in a speech on November 13, 1847, asked how Mexico's nine 
million people could ever be represented in the Congress of the 
United States and whether we needed for our happiness the 
addition of Mexico to this Union.^ Polk made the following 
interesting entry in his diary for March 3, 1848: "Most of the 
Democratic Senators who will vote against the ratification (that 
is the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo), will do so because they 
desire to secure more territory than the Treaty acquires; and 
most of the Whig Senators, perhaps all of them, who will vote 
against the ratification, will do so because they are opposed to 
acquiring any territory." ^ Polk opposed the taking of all Mexico ; 
and Bourne thinks that this opposition was one of the principal 
causes that defeated the movement.* While no one can say 
just how much this movement meant, yet it is clear that the 
doctrine of ''manifest destiny" found a place in the thoughts of 
many men at this time. 

This expansion movement was not the sole work of slavery 
men, as has been held by American historians up to the last 
decade. The Mexican War was not fought purely for the in- 
terests of slave states. In truth, the very men who were respon- 
sible for this war were hindered more than helped by the great 
slavery struggle. There is considerable evidence to sustain this 

When the Wilmot Proviso was before Congress, Polk became 
uneasy and called Wilmot to an interview, which is thus described 
in the President's diary: "I told him I did not desire to extend 
slavery, that I would be satisfied to acquire by treaty from 
Mexico the provinces of New Mexico and the Californias, . . . 
and that in these provinces slavery could probably never exist, 
and the great probability was that the question would never 
arise, ... in the future organization of territorial or State 
Governments in these territories." Polk then went on to show 

1 See address; pamphlet in New York Public Library. 

2 Works (Federal Edition) . Vol. 3, pp. 63-65. 

3 Polk's MS. Diary, March 3, 1848. 

* Edward G. Bourne. The Proposed Absorption of Mexico in 1847-1848. 
Annual Report of American Historical Association for 1899. Vol. 1, p. 169. 

76 Graduate School Publications. 

how the restriction proposed in the proviso would cause the 
South to defeat the treaty when it came to be made.^ A few 
days later Polk again wrote that slavery "has and can have no 
legitimate connection with the war with Mexico, or the terms of 
a peace which may be concluded with that country." He 
thought slavery was being agitated for the purpose of splitting 
the Democratic party in the next presidential election.^ Bu- 
chanan now came to hold views much like those of the President. 
On April 23, 1847, he wrote General Shields, saying, "I would 
acquire the whole of Upper and Lower California if I could. 
Slavery in that region south of 36° 30' can never become a ques- 
tion of any real importance from the character of the country." ^ 
But at the very time Polk was struggling to keep the slavery 
question out of his plans to close the war and get territory, Web- 
ster was arraigning northern men because they refused to vote 
for measures which would deny to the United States the acquisi- 
tion of any territory and thereby the augmenting of slave state 
power. When the "Three Million Bill" was before the Senate, 
Berrien of Georgia moved to amend it so that the money appro- 
priated for expenses connected with a treaty should not be used 
to acquire any territory by conquest from Mexico. The Senate 
rejected the amendment, and Webster said, "Who has rejected 
it? By whose votes has this amendment, this very evening, 
been lost? Sir, it has been lost by the votes of the honorable 
member from New York and his Northern and Eastern friends. 
It has been voted down by the 'Northern Democracy,' . . . 
Every member of the Senate belonging to the Democratic party, 
in the Northern States, however warmly he might have declared 
himself against new slave states, yet refused to vote against all 
territorial acquisition, a measure proposed and offered as a per- 
fect security against more slave states. They are for acquiring 
territory; they are for more states; and, for the sake of this, 
they are willing to run the risk of these new states being slave 
states, and to meet all the convulsions which the discussion of 
that momentous question may hereafter produce." ^ Webster 
made the same criticism of the vote on the treaty of Guadalupe 

1 Polk's MS. Diary, December 23, 1846. 

2 Ibid., January 4, 1847. 

3 Moore. Works of James Buchanan. Vol. 3, pp. 286-287. 
* Webster's Works. Vol. 5 (Old Edition), pp. 257-258. 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexican War. 77 

Hidalgo, saying, "Messrs. Berrien, Badger, and other respect- 
able and distinguished men of the South, voted against the 
acquisition, and the treaty which secured it; and if the men of 
the North had voted the same way, we should have been spared 
all the difficulties that have grown of it." ^ 

The truth seems to be that whenever slavery stood in the way 
of expansion, it was forced aside and the more desirable of the 
two objects was taken. Southern men suppressed their pro- 
slavery feelings for territory; and Northern men suppressed 
their anti-slavery feelings for the same thing. Bourne's con- 
clusion is that "The movementfor expansion, although associated 
in the minds of many people with the extension of slavery, was 
by no means identical with it, being on the one hand strongly 
opposed by some of the ablest champions of the institution and 
on the other hand ardently advocated by its enemies, while the 
body of its support was in no inconsiderable degree made up of 
men on the whole indifferent to the slavery question." ^ In 
light of all the facts, this is a just interpretation. 

Polk played his part in the Mexican War with a steady hand. 
He did all of his own thinking; and what was still more valuable 
to him, he kept it to himself.^ He initiated the war and then 
justified it on the grounds of invasion of Texas and indemnity 
for claims. The first ground constituted good argument for 
exciting public feeling in his favor; and the second furnished an 
excellent pretext for securing territory in the way of indemnity — 
one which his opponents might attack, but could not overthrow. 
But behind all his conduct and public utterances lay the secret 
and powerful motive of expansion. He warded off the slavery 
struggle and defeated his enemies simply because there was in 
Congress and the country a desire for land strong enough to 
suppress all other conflicting motives. The great cause for the 
war was expansion; the great pretext under which it worked was 
the claims. 

1 Webster's Works. Vol. 2 (Old Edition), pp. 554-555. 

2 Edward G. Bourne. " The Proposed Absorption of Mexico in 1847-1848." 
Annual Report of American Historical Association for 1899. Vol. 1, p. 158. 
Reeves holds practically the same view. See American Diplomacy under Ty- 
ler and Polk, pp. 58-59. 

^See George Bancroft's characterization of him. Howe's Life and Letters 
of George Bancroft. Vol. 1, p. 294, and a quotation in Reeves' American 
Diplomacy under Tyler and PoUc, pp. 288-289. 

78 Graduate School Publications. 


All the causes for the Mexican War may be grouped under the 
two questions of territory and claims. The first of these ques- 
tions had its origin in the Adams-Onis treaty of 1819 whereby 
the United States ceded to Spain all claims over Texas. This 
cession was very unpopular in this country; and soon after 
Mexico came into possession of Texas by winning independence 
from Spain, attempts were set on foot to get the province back 
into the Union. The unsatisfactory boundary between Texas 
and the United States furnished a good pretext for opening up 
negotiations. By the close of the year 1829, three attempts 
had been made to purchase it. In the meantime, too, it had 
been populated almost wholly by Americans. These events 
aroused the suspicion of Mexico and engendered in her people 
an unfriendly feeling toward this country. From 1830 to 1845 
numerous things occurred which changed this feeling of unfriend- 
liness into open and bitter hostility. Butler's corrupt schemes 
to purchase Texas; the open aid which American citizens gave 
the Texas revolutionists; Gaines's entrance into Mexican terri- 
tory; the recognition of Texan independence; the Santa Fe ex- 
pedition; the sharp correspondence over neutrality in 1842; 
Commodore Jones' attack upon Monterey; Tyler's effort to 
trade the claims for Texas and Cahfornia; the final annexation 
of the former province; and Polk's grand effort to trade the 
claims for New Mexico and California, — all these aroused the 
deepest hatred for us in Mexico. Mexico's one great grievance, 
therefore, was wrapped up in the events which were connected or 
at least which she thought were connected, with our desire to 
get territory. 

On the other hand, the only fundamental and logical grievance 
which United States had against Mexico resided in the claims. 
That these constituted a just grievance there can be no doubt. 
Although they were misrepresented in character and exaggerated 
in amount, nevertheless they were worthy causes for protest 
and even for war. Mexico's dilatory, evasive, and oftentimes 
insolent policy regarding them can in no way be justified. 
When viewed separately from the other subjects of controversy 
between the two nations, the events connected with the claims 

Claims as a Cause of the Mexicari War. 79 

present no conduct on the part of this country' which was in any 
way unnatural or extraordinary. Ellis's peremptory,' demands in 
1836, Jackson's so-called war message of 1837, Greenhow's mis- 
sion of the same year, the arbitration commission, the conven- 
tions of 1843, and even the attempts to trade the claims for 
territory were legitimate modes of procedure. 

The position of the United States was a delicate one: She 
desired a large portion of Mexico's dominions while at the same 
time she had to seek redress for numerous injuries which that 
country had inflicted upon our citizens. To make the situation 
still more complex, the great slavery struggle which was going 
on led the free state men to hurl violent denunciations at the 
expansion policy. Every time redress for the claims was sought, 
they raised the cry of conspiracy on the ground that war was 
going to follow for the purpose of getting new slave territory. 
This, however, was not the case. 

Jackson did threaten war because of the claims, but not for 
the purpose of getting Texas. Van Buren's fine caution enabled 
him to avoid a crisis; and the plan of arbitration resorted to by 
him was as successful as the state of feeling between the two 
countries would permit. After Tyler failed to trade the claims 
for Texas and California, he bent everj'- effort to secure the 
former province; but he does not seem to have even thought of 
going to war over the claims in order to succeed. Polk, however, 
did use the claims as a pretext for war in order to get California 
and New Mexico. None of these Presidents were so far as their 
Mexican policies were concerned mere tools in the hands of slav- 
ery interests. On the contrary, these same interests hindered 
more than helped their expansion ideals. Had it not been for 
these ideals the claims would have been too insignificant for 
notice and the Mexican War would probably have never been 
fought. As it was the claims remained a constant grievance 
against Mexico down to the time of Polk; and he used them as 
a pretext, not a cause, to get indemnity in the form of territory. 


A Brief Statement of the Claims Taken from Ellis' In- 
structions OF July 20, 1836 

1. The schooner Northampton had been recently wrecked on 
the Mexican coast near Tabasco. The authorities at this place 
mistreated the crew, cargo, and schooner, 

2. "On the 31st of December, 1831, an alcalde of Menotillan, 
in the colony of Guazculaco, instituted what is said to have been 
an illegal, arbitrary, and oppressive proceeding against Doctor 
Baldwin, a citizen of the United States, under color of a suit at 
law, preferred and carried on by a creature of the alcalde himself. 
Baldwin appeared before the alcalde to answer the charge; an 
altercation ensued; and the alcalde ordered him to the stocks, 
which Baldwin refusing to submit to, attempted to escape, and 
was pursued by a party of soldiers, who attended the court. In 
the race, Baldwin fell, received an injury in one of his legs, was 
captured, carried back into the presence of the alcalde, placed 
in the stocks, and afterwards imprisoned." 

3. "In February, 1832, the schooner Topaz, of Bangor, Maine, 
was employed by the Mexican Government to carry troops from 
Matamoras to Galveston Bay. The master and mate were 
murdered by the soldiers on the passage, the crew imprisoned, 
and the vessel seized and converted to the Mexican service. " 

4. "On the 21st of June, 1832, the American schooner Brazoria 
was seized in the port of Brazoria, by John Austin, the Mexican 
Military Commandant in that quarter, and employed to make an 
attack upon Anahuac, then in possession of insurgents. During 
the attack, she was injured so as to be made unseaworthy, and 
was abandoned as a total loss, for which the underwriters have 
received no compensation. " 

5. "In the summer of 1832, the steamboat Hidalgo and schooner 
Consolation, belonging to Aaron Leggett, of New York, were 
forcibly taken possession of by Mexican officers at Tabasco, and 
used by them. The brig John, belonging to Leggett, was also 
detained, and money was extorted from him." 

6. "In March, 1834, Captain McKeige, of the schooner Indus- 
try, of Mobile, was imprisoned at Tabasco, and an exorbitant fine 


Appendix. 81 

demanded of him without cause. The payment of the fine being 
made the only condition upon which he could be allowed to 
depart, he abandoned his vessel and her cargo to the authorities 
who afterward sold them." 

7. "In the summer of 1834, the brig Paragon, of New York, was 
causelessly fired into on her way to Vera Cruz by the Mexican 
public armed schooner Tampico." 

8. In May, 1835, the brig Ophir, of New York, was seized and 
condemned by custom-house officers at Compeachy, The 
cause of the seizure grew out of a misunderstanding in regard to 
the ship's papers. 

9. "In May, 1835, also, the schooner Martha, from New 
Orleans, was seized at Galveston Bay by the Mexican armed 
schooner Montezuma for an alleged non-compliance with some of 
the formalities of their revenue laws. Four of the passengers of 
the Martha were put in irons under the hatches of the Monte- 
zuma, and otherwise treated with great barbarity, merely for an 
imputed intention to use their fire-arms against a guard that had 
been placed on board the Martha.''^ 

10. "In November, 1835, the schooner Hannah and Elizabeth, 
of New Orleans, was stranded in attempting to enter Matagorda 
Bay. While in this condition, she was fired into by the Mexican 
armed schooner Bravo, boarded by twenty armed soldiers under 
the command of two officers, who forcibly took the master, crew, 
and passengers from the wreck, pillaged them of most of their 
clothes, and chained them in the hold of the Bravo until their 
arrival at Matamoras, where they were continued in confinement; 
but through the urgent representations of our Consul there, all 
but the captain were eventually released." 

11. "On the 17th of February last, William Hallett and 
Zalmon Hull, citizens of the United States, were arrested in the 
streets of Matamoras by a party of armed soldiers, who struck 
Hull in the face with a sword, and forcibly took both to the 
principal barrack in that city, where they were confined upon 
suspicion of being about to proceed to Texas. Shortly afterwards 
sentinels were placed at the doors of the Consul's residence, 
under false pretences, and all communication with the house pro- 
hibited. Armed soldiers broke open his gate during his absence, 
forcibly took a mare and two mules belonging to him, entered his 
home with drawn swords, and searched every room in it, for the 
avowed object of finding the Consul. Hallett and Hull have 

82 Appendix. 

been released, but the department is not aware that any repara- 
tion has been made for the proceedings against them, or for the 
insult to the Consul." 

12. "In February, last, an attempt was made at the city of 
Mexico to take from Mr. W. A. Slacum, protected by a courier's 
passport from this department, public despatches of this Govern- 
ment addressed to Mr. Butler. The attempt failed, but Mr. 
Slacum was fined and detained for carrying official letters on his 
person, authenticated by the indorsement of this department, 
and directed to the charge d'affaires of the United States in 

13. "In March, last, the schooner Eclipse was detained at 
Tabasco, and her master and crew mialtreated by the authorities. " 

14. "In April, last, the brig Jane, schooner Compeer, and 
other merchant vessels of the United States, were forcibly de- 
tained at jMatamoras. " 

15. "You will also notify the Mexican Government that it is 
expected any damage which may have been sustained by citizens 
of the United States, in consequence of the recent embargo at 
Vera Cruz, Tampico, and other Mexican ports on the gulf, will 
be repaired, pursuant to the stipulation in the treaty. The 
papers now sent show that the military commandant of Tampico 
has made the embargo a pretext for interrupting or obstructing 
the correspondence between the Commander of the United States 
revenue cutter Jefferson and our Consul there. For these acts, 
proper satisfaction will likewise be expected." 

— House Documents, 24th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 3, No. 
105, pp. 24-27. 


Brief Statement of the Claims as Presented to Mexico 
BY THE United States in July, 1837 

1. A. P. Chouteau and J. De Mun, chiefs of a hunting expedi- 
tion, were, with their companions, arrested by Mexican officers 
in 1817, carried to Santa Fe, imprisoned, and otherwise mal- 
treated. They maintained that they had lost property thereby 
to the value of $30,380.74|. 

2. In January, 1818, the brig Cossack and her cargo were seized 
by the authorities of Mazatlan on the ground that she had not 
ship papers. By a decree of July, 1819, the brig and cargo were 
condemned and sold and the proceeds were placed in the national 
treasury of Rosario. A decree of the next year ordered that the 
money be restored to the owner, but this decree was never exe- 
cuted. The owner then assigned his interest in the claim to J. J. 
Astor of New York and Boardman and Pope of Boston, who 
stated that the proceeds of the sale were about $40,000. 

3. The cargo of the ship Louisa of Providence, consisting of 
arms, cordage, flour, and other provisions, was taken at the port 
of Acapulco in 1821 by orders of Iturbide and appropriated to 
the use of the Mexican government. Mexico acknowledged the 
debt in February, 1822, and decreed the payment of -148,363 to 
the owners; $14,418 were paid, but the balance, S33,945, remained 

4. Five thousand five hundred and eighty-seven Mexican dol- 
lars, belonging to Peter Harmony, were seized by some officers 
of Iturbide and appropriated to the use of the Mexican Gov- 

5. Fifteen thousand Mexican dollars, belonging to Harmony 
and Le Roy Bayard & Co., were seized in 1882 while being 
conveyed from Mexico to La Vera Cruz and were appropriated 
to the use of the Mexican Government. 

6. Four thousand seven hundred and thirty-eight dollars and 6| 
reals, belonging to Jethro Mitchell, were seized and detained by 
Mexican officials in 1822 while being conveyed from Mexico to 
La Vera Cruz. 

7. John K. West and others furnished supplies to Herreva, 


84 Appendix. 

an agent of the Mexican government. Payment had never been 

8. The brig Liberty, valued at $3,500 with a cargo valued at 
$4,000 while en route from New York to Mexico, was captured 
off the bar at Alvarado by the Mexican government schooner 
Iguala on the ground that she was carrying Spanish goods into 
a Mexican port in violation of a Mexican decree. 

9. The brig Cato sailed from Villa Hermosa, the capital of 
Tabasco, regularly cleared for the port of Philadelphia with 
leave to touch at Alvarado. For the purpose of loading with log- 
wood, she anchored in the river near the Rancho of Chilassa. 
Here on August 26, 1824, she was boarded by fifteen to twenty 
men, rifled of numerous articles among which were $2,701 in 
specie, and left aground. Two of the crew were wounded in 
the struggle. The owners claimed $5,544.98 damage. 

10. The schooner Leda was detained at Tabasco from Sep- 
tember 1 to November 13, 1824, and excessive tonnage was 
illegally exacted. Owners claimed $988. 

11. Borie, Laguerenne, and others claimed that excessive and 
illegal duties had been levied and collected on certain cottons 
imported into Alvarado in 1824 and 1825 by merchants of Phila- 
delphia and New York. The claims amounted to $32,721.79, 
with interest from February, 1825. 

12. The schooner Felix wdth cargo was condemned near Soto 
la Marina harbor in September, 1835, on the ground that she 
was carrying goods of Spanish origin from a Spanish port des- 
tined for Mexico. Amount claimed was $37,117.29. 

13. The brig Delight of Philadelphia was at one time compelled 
to unload and reship because of customs regulations. The 
owners claimed that this caused a loss of $3,716.48. At another 
time, the vessel was seized by a collector of customs with armed 
force on same grounds. The amount claimed for this was $15,- 
692.50. Both incidents occurred in 1825. 

14. The schooner Fair American of Baltimore had her cargo 
seized in January, 1826, on the ground that she had not complied 
with customs regulations and on the ground that she was sus- 
pected of illicit trading. Amount claimed was $50,225.21 with 
some interest. 

15. The schooner Superior of New York was captured by 
Mexican gunboat Orizaba in February, 1826, because she was 
thought to be the Superior of Philadelphia which had been en- 

Appendix. 85 

gaged in smuggling. The claim was based on the fact that the 
vessel was ruined, having become worm-eaten because of lying 
in port so long. Amount was not stated. 

16. John H. Andrews had shipped twenty bales of white wax 
from St. Petersburg to Vera Cruz. The custom-house officer 
of the latter place condemned and sold it on the ground that the 
wax was of Cuba origin. Amount claimed was $1,631.25. 

17. The ship Franklin and the brig Barrian of Boston got into 
difficulties at St. Diego over custom duties. Parts of the car- 
goes were taken to pay duties. The captains resisted this and 
also refused to give up ship papers whereupon the vessels were 
fired upon. Amount claimed was $53,657.54. 

18. Eli E. Hammond and Jarvis S. Hammond were engaged 
in the summer of 1828 in a trading expedition from Missouri to 
Santa Fe. They were arrested for smuggling and their merchan- 
dise was confiscated. Amount claimed was $7,000. 

19. The brig William of Newport, R. I., was forcibly taken in 
August, 1829, by Mexican officers and used for forty-four days 
during the Spanish invasion. Amount claimed was $4,999.33. 

20. The brig Splendid of New Haven was forced for a time in 
the year 1829 into Mexican service. Amount claimed was 

21. In the year 1830, the brig Ursula of Boston was also 
forced into Mexican service for a time. Amount claimed was 

22. Pell and Brothers of New York sent types and press to 
the American Consul at Tampico with a view to the setting up 
of a printing press there. The Spaniards who invaded Mexico 
in 1829 first used these and then destroyed them. Amount of 
claim was not stated. 

23. William H. Shaw chartered the Schooner Galaxy of Hal- 
lowell, Maine, for some voyages between Havana and Liguria at 
the rate of $450 per month. Mexican authorities detained him. 
Amount of claim was not stated. 

24. The schooners Rebecca Eliza and Alert of New York ar- 
rived at Tampico in September, 1829, at a time when the Spanish 
invading army was there. The Mexican authorities seized them 
on the ground that they were carrying provisions to the Spanish 
army. The vessels were so maltreated that they had to be 
abandoned. Amount of claim was not stated. 

25. The brig General Morelos of New Orleans was forcibly 

86 Appendix. 

detained and held by the authorities of Vera Cruz. Amount 
claimed was $8,826. 

26. The vessel Eliza Jane of New York was condemned at 
Vera Cruz on the ground that she was unseaworthy and sold. 
In transshipping, the captain was forced to give bond for pay- 
ment of tonnage duty which he had paid before at point of de- 
parture. Amount of claim not stated. 

27. The claim of John Baldwin. ''A certain alcalde of Minotit- 
lan, in the colony of Guazcualco, preferred, through a creature 
of his own, an illegal, arbitrary, and oppressive proceeding against 
Baldwin, under color of a suit at law. Baldwin appeared before 
the alcalde (31st December, 1831) to answer the charge; an alter- 
cation ensued, and the alcalde ordered him to the stocks, which 
Baldwin refused to submit to, attempted to escape, and was 
pursued and fired upon by a party of soldiers who attended court. 
In the race Baldwin fell, and received an injury in one of his legs 
or knees, was captured, carried back into the presence of the 
alcalde, placed in the stocks, and afterwards imprisoned." No 
amount stated. 

28. In February, 1832, the master of the schooner Topaz agreed 
to carry one hundred and fifty soldiers from Matamoras to Gal- 
veston, During the voyage the master and mate were murdered, 
some of the property of the vessel was stolen, and the Mexicans 
then took possession of her. Amount of claim was not stated. 

29. The schooner Brazoria while lying in port at Brazoria was 
seized by John Austin, the Mexican military commandant in 
that quarter, and employed in an attack on Anahuac. During 
the attack, she was so much injured that the o\vners abandoned 
her to the underwriters. Amount claimed was $6,800, with in- 
terest until paid. 

30. The claims of Aaron Leggett. In November, 1831, Leg- 
gett obtained from the legislature of Tabasco an exclusive privi- 
lege to use steamboats on the waters of that state for the period 
of ten years. Leggett sent certain vessels thither to transport 
logwood. During a i"evolution, some of his vessels were seized 
and forced into Mexican service. His agent was imprisoned and 
money was extorted from him. In all, Leggett had thirty claims 
amounting to $786,507.72. 

31. In June, 1833, the schooner Augustus was seized in the 
harbor of Brazo de Santiago on the ground that she was smug- 

Appendix. 87 

gling. Hurlburt, who had chartered the vessel, claimed $6,030.09 
damage for loss incurred. 

32. In July, 1833, the schooner Wetree was seized by the 
authorities of Tampico. The master abandoned the vessel, but 
his papers, which were the only ones on which the claim was 
based did not state the amount of the loss. 

33. On March 10, 1834, the brig Industry was ready to sail 
from Tabasco. The captain failed to secure clearance and gave 
up the vessel, whereupon the Mexican authorities sold her. 
Amount claimed was $11,060.68. 

34. On May 5, 1834, the schooner William A. Turner put 
into port at Sisal in distress. Here the vessel and cargo were 
seized by Mexican authorities. Amount of claim was not stated. 

35. Brig Paragon. "In the summer of 1834, on her voyage 
from New York to Vera Cruz, this vessel was fired upon by the 
Mexican public armed schooner Tatnpico." 

36. In 1834, three boxes of merchandise, belonging to the 
schooner Two Brothers, were condemned for want of invoices. 
Amount claimed was $1,000. 

37. On September 25, 1834, the master of the schooner St. 
Croix was imprisoned by the collector of customs at Aransas- 
ser Bay in Texas because he failed to pay duties. The master 
was otherwise maltreated and had to abandon the vessel, which 
became, as a result, unseaworthy. Amount of claim was not 

38. In 1836, double tonnage duties were collected from the 
brig Westo7i. Amount claimed was $352.75. 

39. Schooner Martha. "This vessel was seized at Brazoria by 
the Mexican vessel of war Montezuma, in May, 1835, taken to 
Vera Cruz, and condemned, as is presumed, upon a charge 
that some articles of her cargo were not included in the manifest • 
Some of the passengers were arrested on the charge of an attempt 
to rise against the guard placed on board of her at Galveston." 
Amount of claim not stated. 

40. Schooner Hannah Elizabeth. " This vessel was stranded in 
November, 1835, near Matagora, in Texas. Whilst in that situ- 
ation, she was fired upon by the Mexican armed schooner Bravo, 
and her master, mate, three seamen, and five passengers, carried 
to Matamoras, and imprisoned." 

41. In May, 1835, the district court at Campeachy condemned 
the brig Ophir because of faulty ship papers. Amount of claim 
was not stated. 

88 Appendix. 

42. In April, 1836, the brig Jane and other vessels were de- 
tained at Matamoras on the ground that hostile vessels were 
cruising in those waters. United States held that this action 
was in violation of the eighth article of the treaty of amity, 
commerce, and navigation. 

43. On March 19, 1836, the schooner Eclipse was seized at Ta- 
basco without cause, and the captain and crew were maltreated. 
Amount of claim was not stated. 

44. W. E. Coleman, acting Consul of the United States at 
Tabasco, was publicly insulted and maltreated because he re- 
fused to legalize certain documents. 

45. Schooner Aurora. This vessel was stranded five leagues 
west of the Tabasco River, but the greater part of her cargo 
was safely landed. The custom-house officers and military took 
forcible possession of these articles, whereupon the crew re- 
monstrated. In the struggle, the mate was severely wounded. 
The cargo was then plundered by the officers and soldiers. 
Amount of claim was not stated. 

46. In September, 1836, the schooner Bethlehem was taken 
possession of by the Mexican Navy and forced into her service. 
Amount of claim was not given. 

47. Brig Fourth of July. Edmund Didier of Baltimore had 
had this vessel built for the purpose of selling her for the Mexican 
government. In October, 1836, the vessel was in the port of 
Vera Cruz. Mexicans took possession of her and hoisted the 
Mexican flag before the papers of sale were properly concluded. 
In the end, this claim came to be a demand of satisfaction for 
the manner in which the vessel had been taken possession of 
by the authorities at Vera Cruz. 

48. Seamen of the Natchez. On November 2, 1836, a boat 
and eight men, under the command of Midshipman Renshaw, 
left the United States sloop of war Natchez, then at anchor off 
Sacrificios, and landed on the mole, in the city of Vera Cruz. 
The officer went to see the Consul and in the meantime the crew 
became intoxicated and got into a fight, in which two were 
wounded. The sailors were unable to manage the boat, so 
Renshaw asked the captain of the port to receive them in charge 
till next day. The Consul asked for their delivery the next day> 
but it was refused and the Consul was not even allowed to see 
them. They were kept in close confinement. 

49. William Hallett and Zalmon Hall, and D. W. Smith, 

Appendix. 89 

Consul of the United States at Matamoras. "On the 17th of 
February, 1836, Hallett and Hall, citizens of the United States, 
were arrested in the streets of Matamoras by a party of armed 
soldiers, who struck Hall in the face with a sword, and forcibly 
took both to the principal barrack of that city, where they were 
confined on suspicion of being about to proceed to Texas. Sen- 
tinels were placed at the doors of the Consul's residence subse- 
quently to the arrest of Hallett and Hall, and all communication 
therewith prohibited. Armed soldiers broke open his gate during 
his absence, forcibly took a mare and two mules belonging to 
him, entered his house with drawn swords, and searched every 
room in it, with the avowed object of finding the Consul himself. 
Hallett and Hall have been released." United States desired 
satisfaction for this. 

50. Schooner Peter D. Vroom. This vessel was wrecked off 
the coast forty miles above Vera Cruz in the summer of 1836. 
The captain appointed the American Consul agent of the cargo. 
The Consul of Vera Cruz, sent vessels for the cargo, brought it 
to Vera Cruz, and tendered it to the original consignee, who re- 
fused it. The merchantile of Vera Cruz appointed an agent 
instead of the American Consul who proceeded to sell the goods. 
Claim was for the refusal to allow American Consul to act as 

51. Lieutenant Osburn, and boat's crew of the United States 
revenue cutter Jefferson. The American merchants at Tampico 
requested that a vessel which could pass the bar might be sent 
for their protection. The revenue cutter Jefferson was ordered 
by Commodore Dallas to proceed to Tampico. Mr. Robertson, 
our Consul there, asked General Gomez, the military command- 
ant there, for permission to let the cutter come up to the town. 
Gomez refused. Lieutenant Osburn of the Jefferson attempted 
to call on the Consul, but before he was allowed to, he was 
put into custody of an officer, taken to the commandant's quar- 
ters and examined. While he was absent from the ship, the crew 
were put into prison and detained for a time. Gomez was re- 
moved, but shortly after appointed commandant at Vera Cruz- 

52. Ship Robert Wilsoii. This vessel was seized in August' 
1833, at Vera Cruz on the ground of having imported false coin, 
contrary to the revenue laws of Mexico. The seizure was tried 
in the Mexican courts and the vessel sold for benefit of the 
government. The owners sued the Union Insurance Company 

90 Appendix. 

and received $12,313.26. This company tried for eighteen months 
to get the proceedings of the Mexican courts and sent three com- 
missions for them. The American minister was asked to help. 
They could not be gotten in time to save the company from 
paying the damage. The company claimed indemnity for 
refusal to send the court records. 

53. Captain James O'Flaherty, master of the schooner William 
A. Turner, was detained at Sisal in 1834, and compelled to give 
up his vessel and cargo until the courts returned them. He was 
also compelled to give up his ship at Matamoras in 1836, and was 
himself imprisoned. For the loss at Sisal, $10,969 was claimed; 
and for the loss at Matamoras, $7,500. 

54. A. de O. Santangelo. "This individual is a naturalized 
citizen of the United States. He was editor of a newspaper at 
the city of Mexico, called El Correo Atlantico, and his wife kept 
a school there for the instruction of young women. Some re- 
marks in his paper having given offense to the Mexican Govern- 
ment, passports were sent to him in June, 1835, with an order 
to quit that country within — days. He claims one hundred 
thousand dollars as an indemnification for this sudden banish- 
ment, which he declares to have been contrary to the Mexican 
laws, as well as in violation of his rights as a citizen of the United 

55. Mr. Gorostiza. "This person, recently envoy extraor- 
dinary and minister plenipotentiary of the Mexican republic 
to the United States, caused to be printed and distributed among 
the members of the diplomatic body accredited to this Govern- 
ment, a pamphlet defamatory of the Government and people of 
the United States." 

56. Forced loans, "For all exactions which may have been 
made from citizens of the United States, under laws of the 
Mexican republic authorizing forced loans, ample indemnifica- 
tion will be expected." 

57. Louisiana, Champion, Julius Caesar. "These vessels were 
captured by the Mexican squadron in the Gulf of Mexico in the 
spring of 1837, for an alleged violation of a pretended blockade 
of the ports of Texas." 

(For full statement of the claims see House Executive Docu- 
ments, 25th Congress, 2d Session. Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 40-108.) 


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